During the twentieth century, and especially with Paul VI and then John Paul II, the Church gave an extraordinary teaching to the family; in a sense, they handed the Family its Gospel, a vision of its own inner life and mission.
But the Church gave this teaching at a time when modern culture, and especially the mass media, was trivialising the family. During my life-time the culture has lost sight of the family, and the media has done immense harm by making the family the subject of its gaze and of its own secular agenda.
Today, forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society and in the mission of the Church, are hardly reference points at all. Instead, the pursuit of relationships, rather than marriage, the pursuit of life-styles, rather than educating and forming human beings, and as for society, that is down to the welfare State and its organs to provide us with.
Yes, a huge shift took place in the Church's understanding of the family (with Humanae Vitae), but a huge shift also took place within the culture, in which the mass media took hold of the controls.
By projecting soap opera families onto our screens the media has made the family self-conscious and utterly vulnerable to manipulation by the media. The mass media insists on providing models of family living and, in so doing, has indicated the way in which families should see and understand themselves.
What was formerly the preserve of families themselves - handing on the culture - has been taken out of the hands of families, in a significant degree, by the mass media, and more recently by the virtual reality of internet and its own social media.
Never before has the family been so intensively modelled as it is today by the media. The Church has never given models for family living, except of course, the Holy Family, which of its nature, transcends all times and cultures.
In considering the themes which the Synod of Bishops has raised, it seems to me that it is important for the Church to see what the culture has done to the family today, and more importantly, for the Church to look again at its own teaching and vision of marriage and the family, and to make these as available as possible in the simplest and clearest ways, to parishes and to communities, opening them up and receiving them anew. This is the first essential step for the Church today.