Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Synod14: Be open to God’s surprises

Cafeteria pope

Yesterday’s “relatio post disceptationem” has lead to an avalanche of reactions - many positive but many also very negative. Before looking at some of them, it is worth taking a look at Pope Francis’ beautiful homily (on Luke 11:29-32) at Santa Marta before the document was presented, since it further fleshes out his vision:
“Why were these Doctors of the Law unable to understand the signs of the times? Why did they demand an extraordinary sign (which Jesus later gave to them), why they did not understand? First of all, because they were closed. They were closed within their system, they had perfectly systemized the law, it was a masterpiece. Every Jews knew what they could do and what they could not do, how far they could go. It was all systemized. And they were safe there. [...]

They did not understand that God is the God of surprises, that God is always new; He never denies himself, never says that what He said was wrong, never, but He always surprises us. They did not understand this and they closed themselves within that system that was created with the best of intentions and asked Jesus: ‘But, give us a sign’. And they did not understand the many signs that Jesus did give them and which indicated that the time was ripe. Closure! Second, they had forgotten that they were a people on a journey. On a path! And when we set out on a journey, when we are on our path, we always encounter new things, things we did not know.

And this should make us think: am I attached to my things, my ideas, [are they] closed? Or am I open to God’s surprises? Am I at a standstill or am I on a journey? Do I believe in Jesus Christ - in Jesus, in what he did: He died, rose again and the story ended there - Do I think that the journey continues towards maturity, toward the manifestation of the glory of the Lord? Am I able to understand the signs of the times and be faithful to the voice of the Lord that is manifested in them? We should ask ourselves these questions today and ask the Lord for a heart that loves the law - because the law belongs to God – but which also loves God’s surprises and the ability to understand that this holy law is not an end in itself.”
Even though Francis has not spoken during the Synod, other than opening it and setting the tone for the discussions, his daily homilies are very much aimed at it, and none more so than yesterday morning’s one. With that key in mind, let’s turn to his homily from this morning (on Luke 11:37-41):
“Jesus condemns this cosmetic spirituality, of appearing to be good, beautiful, but the truth inside is another thing! Jesus condemns the people of good manners but bad habits, of habits that can’t be seen but are done in secret. But the appearance is right: these people who liked to go for walks in the squares, to be seen praying, wearing the ‘make-up’ of a little weakness when fasting ... Is the Lord like that? You saw that there are two, but related, adjectives that he uses here: greed and wickedness.

What counts is faith. But what faith? That which is ‘working through love’.1 Jesus says the same to the Pharisee. A faith that is not merely reciting the Creed: we all believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in eternal life ... We all believe! But this is a static faith, not active. What is true in Jesus Christ is the actions that come from faith, or rather the faith that becomes active in love, that turns to alms. Alms in the broadest sense of the word: breaking away from the dictatorship of money, the idolatry of money. Every greed leads us away from Jesus Christ.”
Wow! This is truly a return to the Early Church and not the “laxity” or “modernism” for which yesterday’s “relatio” has been criticised so broadly and so harshly by many. It is, as Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, who said that “at the Synod one looks with the eyes of the shepherd who looks for every sheep, starting from the lost ones”2 and that “Today in the “relatio” we have seen a church that pays more attention to sowing seeds than to pulling out weeds.”3 With all of the above under out belts, let’s look at the official notes from the free discussion that immediately followed the presentation of the “relatio” yesterday. To begin with it was acknowledged that the document represents the preceding week’s work well and that it:
“reveals the Church’s love for the family faithful to Christ, but also her capacity to be close to humanity in every moment of life, to understand that, behind the pastoral challenges, there are many people who suffer. The Synod, it was emphasised, should have the watchful gaze of the shepherd who devotes his life to his sheep, without a priori judgement.”
For the sake of balance, it was suggested that:
“while the Church must welcome those in difficulty, it would be useful to speak more widely about those families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, thanking them and encouraging them for the witness they offer. From the Synod it emerged more clearly that indissoluble, happy marriage, faithful for ever, is beautiful, possible and present in society, therefore avoiding a near-exclusive focus on imperfect family situations.”
Having the week’s summary also lead to the identification of important themes that haven’t received adequate coverage and it was suggested what is needed is:
“giving more emphasis to the theme of women, their protection and their importance for the transmission of life and faith; to include consideration of the figure of grandparents within the family unit; more specific reference to the family as a “domestic Church” and the parish as a “family of families”, and to the Holy Family, an essential model for reference. In this respect, it was also suggested that the family and missionary role in proclaiming the Gospel in the world be further promoted.”
The other interventions were focused on being careful about a sense of balance and of not loosing sight of what is good while being merciful to what is imperfect.

While the focus of the Synod has been very positive and optimistic, in my opinion, and my own impression of it is one of unreserved admiration and a joy because of the greater love that the Church will be able to show all - both within it and without,4 there have also been very negative reactions. And I believe it is important to hear them, try to understand them, and find ways to make their authors too feel welcome in the Church. Here the most prominent negative voice so far has been that of Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, who said that the “relatio” is “not acceptable to many bishops,” that it “departs from the teaching of John Paul II, and even that traces anti-marriage ideology can be seen in it,” adding that:
“Our main task is to support the family pastorally, not to attack her, by exposing difficult situations that do exist, but that do not make up the core of the family itself and that do not do away with the need for support, which should be given a good, normal, ordinary families who are struggling not so much for survival as for faithfulness. [...]

[The “relatio”], instead of presenting incentives for faithfulness, family values​​, seems to accept everything as is. It creates the impression that the teaching of the Church has been merciless, while it now starts a teaching of mercy.”

1 cf. Galatians 5:6.
2 cf. Luke 15:1-7.
3 cf. Matthew 13:24-30.
4 Not to mention that this kind of opening is precisely what I have been hoping for when Pope Francis was elected :).