Vatican City — When marriage is considered mainly as a way to satisfy one's need for affection, people feel free to define marriage however they want, Pope Francis said.
"Unfortunately, such a reductionist idea influences the mentality of Christians as well," leading some to see separation or divorce as a simple solution when problems arise, the pope told the bishops of Latvia and Estonia.
Francis met the five Baltic bishops Thursday during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. In keeping with his normal practice, the pope had an informal conversation with the bishops, then handed them the text of his prepared speech.
In the text, the pope told the bishops that God had chosen them to "work in a society that, after having long been oppressed by regimes founded on ideologies contrary to human dignity and freedom, today is called to face other insidious dangers, such as secularism and relativism."
Evangelizing in such a context requires close collaboration with priests, religious and laity who are involved in church life in a variety of ways, the pope said.
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The Second Vatican Council, he said, emphasized the special role lay Catholics have in the cultural, social and political fields, but also in the works of charity and catechesis.
Francis told the bishops their role is to ensure laypeople receive the education and support they need to understand church teaching, particularly the social doctrine of the church.
"The lay faithful are the living channel between what we pastors preach and the various areas of social life," the pope said.
The church's pastors, he said, have a particular responsibility to help lay Catholics understand and appreciate church teaching on marriage and family life as the "gift of God for the fulfillment of man and woman created in his image and as the basic cell of society, the place where one learns to live with others despite differences" and where "parents pass on the faith to their children."
Too often today, Francis said, "marriage is considered a form of emotional gratification that can be constructed in any way and modified however anyone wants."
As Catholic pastors, he said, "we are called to ask ourselves about the preparation of young engaged couples for marriage" and also to help separated and divorced couples "so that the children do not become its first victims and the couples do not feel excluded from the mercy of God and the care of the church, but are assisted in the journey of faith and the Christian education of their children."