According to the Catholic Herald the working document for the forthcoming Synod of the Family has been released in Italian. One of the main areas up for discussion is the "Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World". Since reading this title (hoping it is just a bad translation of the Italian) I have been getting very frustrated by its utter lack of sense. If it is not a bad translation of a naff modern foreign language, then to me this title is deeply worrying.
Consider the idea of "family" for a moment. We have two immediate families, our biological family and our spiritual family. We also have many extended families of intertwined relationships crossing classes, generations and national borders. The biological family consists of two parents whose gametes formed the zyogtes that became the children of that family. There may be substitutes; a man, woman or child standing in for the true genetic relationship for a myriad of licit and illicit reasons.
Consider the concept of "mission" for a moment. A mission is a reaching out to the world, it is a public thing. One would hope that the spiritual family we find ourselves part of does have a common mission based round some common spiritual understanding of God and salvation. Should one expect one's biological family to share that spiritual mission? No, that is surely an impossibility. A biological family unit will have a very different mission, rooted round its own survival, it is only if the biological family all share the same spiritual baggage that a common spiritual mission will exist. A spiritual mission can not be forced upon it. The mission of a biological family is actually an irrelevance in the spiritual domain; it can be good or bad, but it is purely natural, it has no supernatural element, goodness should be fostered within it, but in itself it is not a source of sanctification. However, if for example a biological family has several devout Catholics, receiving the sacraments and loving Our Lord, then their mission is supernaturalised, BUT for this to happen, the members must have freely chosen that path. If a biological family contains only one devout Catholic, then mission in the family is also supernaturalised by the faith of the one believer, but this is hardly a "family mission". It is a mission of an individual towards souls he loves deeply.
Consider now the concept of "vocation". A vocation is a calling from God to married life or the priesthood. It is usually less dramatic and romantic than we are led to believe. It is a small voice that guides our path and keeps us grounded and surefooted. There being only two vocations is why only these two have Sacraments associated with them. Consecrated life, I'd argue is not a vocation, rather the absence of a vocation, recognised as such but given to God nevertheless. The alternative is to remain chaste and celibate irrespective of whether a vocation materialises. Like everything else, this can be an immense source of grace, but it is not a vocation, it is a way of life.
My point is that a family cannot have a vocation. A husband and wife who have been Sacramentally married have a vocation. An ordained priest has a vocation. A family cannot have a vocation, because the children must be free to reject the family unit. A vocation is a "bringing forth of Christ", if a husband and wife do this effectively, then the children will likely as not respond favourably, but they don't have to. They must be free to stick two fingers up at their family, to walk away. Only if a family has this freedom within it will it be an imitation of the Divine Life. Likewise, a priest "brings forth Christ" in his ministry, and those he meets are free to accept or reject what he offers.
We have raised the biological family to ideological heights that it simply cannot live up to. It puts tremendous and unnecessary strain and misery into its members. It puts untold pressures on children. It can never be perfect. We seem to be desiring its perfection, but all we manage to do is sentimentalise and romanticise it which will only increase its chances of sorrowful brokenness.
The biological family is simply too precious to place on such a plinth. Surely, the whole point about it is that its mission in the contemporary world is an irrelevance and it can't have a vocation.