Thursday, 16 October 2014

Synod14: God knew me before He created the world

Pope baby

Putting to one side a variety of great interviews that I have come across over the course of the last day, my focus today will be on the summaries of the 10 working groups (“circoli minori”) that have worked on refining the “relatio post disceptationem” since it was published on Monday morning and that have presented their conclusions to the whole Synod today. The team preparing the final “relatio” of the Synod will now take these 10 sets of inputs and work over the next day and a half to arrive at the final document of the current, extraordinary Synod. This in turn will be the basis for work over the course of the following year, which in turn will provide an input to the pope following which he will take his decisions. It is a long process (thank God!) and one that allows for deep understanding and a shared journey to be traversed.

Before looking at the working group syntheses, let me just quote from Pope Francis’ homily from this morning, where he stresses the importance of giving praise to God and of remembering who we are in His eyes:
“Prayers of praise bring us the joy of being happy before the Lord. Let’s make a real effort to rediscover this! However, the starting point is remembering this choice: God chose me before the creation of the world.

This is impossible to understand or even imagine: The fact that the Lord knew me before the creation of the world, that my name was in the Lord’s heart. This is the truth! This is the revelation! If we do not believe this then we are not Christian! We may be steeped in a theist religiosity, but not Christian! The Christian is a chosen one, the Christian is someone who has been chosen in God’s heart before the creation of the world. This thought also fills our hearts with joy: I am chosen! It gives us confidence.

Our name is in God’s heart, is in God’s bowels, just as the baby is inside its mother. Our joy lies in our being elected. We cannot understand this with our head alone. We cannot understand this even with our heart. To understand this we must enter into the Mystery of Jesus Christ. The Mystery of His beloved Son: ‘He has poured out his blood for us in abundance, with all wisdom and intelligence, making known to us the mystery of His will’. And this is a third attitude to have: entering into the Mystery.”
It is with the above image of the human person that Francis arrives at the imperative to closeness, to accompanying, to a shared journey.

Turning to the working group summaries (which weigh in at 12K words), what I’d like to do is group their content into themes, rather than keep to an arrangement by working group.1
  1. An explicit setting out of the Christian understanding of marriage. The final document ought “to speak of human life, marriage and family life, as we know it to be revealed to us by God through reason and faith, both aided by the grace of God, [... to] proclaim the truth of the Gospel, the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ” [AA] “It is important that the Scriptural foundation for marriage, as well as the teaching found in Tradition, be made clear in the document from its beginning in order to build the framework for the issues to be discussed.” [AC] (+ [AB], [IA], [IB], [IC], [HB])

  2. An emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel. ““Listening” or “seeing” must always be through the lens of the Gospel.” [AA] (+ [AC], [IA], [IB], [IC])

  3. A need to evidence continuity. “The pastoral character of this Synod, ought to show even more clearly that there is no break between doctrine and pastoral care, but that the latter is based on the former and expresses its truth in the daily life of the Christian community. In the words of St. Gregory the Great: “Pastoral commitment is the proof of love.” [...] This also implies the need to highlight that we are always faced with a progressive development of doctrine.” [IB]

  4. Being explicit about recognizing the need for change in imperfect situations. A call to “honestly recognizing and acknowledging sinful situations, and searching for ways to invite conversion of heart.” [AA] “It seems that there is a fear of expressing an opinion on several issues that have by now become dominant cultural expressions. This does not seem consistent with the prophetic mission of the Church.” [IB] “The Relatio [ought to] reiterate explicitly the doctrine on marriage, family and sexuality, without hesitating to relying on the categories of “sin” and “adultery” and “conversion,” with respect to situations which are objectively contrary to the Gospel of the family.” [IC]

  5. An emphasis on mercy. “All of us need the help of the mercy of God. The mercy of God is not just a medicine, much less a consolation prize, for those who fail. None of us can be faithful without experiencing God’s mercy. No one should devalue the place of mercy in the economy of salvation.” [AB] “The context of and the challenges of the family raise the need for the Church to repeat words of the Gospel combining hope with truth and mercy, looking to engage with the concrete lives of people, bringing about a re-emergence of the desire for God in them.” “The Gospel of mercy is an indispensable, integral part of truth itself and truth, therefore, can not be reduced to the mere observance of a pastoral attitude towards people.” [IC] “Knowing that the greatest mercy is to speak the truth with love (St. Augustine), we go beyond compassion. As merciful love attracts and unites, so it also transforms and exalts and calls to conversion. (cf. John 8:1- 11).” [HA]

  6. The need to clarify or more broadly apply the principle of graduality. To show that “we are not speaking of the GRADUALITY of DOCTRINE of faith and morals, but rather the gradual moral growth of the individual in his or her actions.” [AA] “The group expressed concern about an over emphasis on the term “positive elements” when speaking of civil marriage and cohabitation. It preferred language which would address the law of gradualness as a way to enter into a pastoral dialogue with [them]. [...] The law of gradualness always involves a progression and a conversion towards the full ideal.” [AB] “We felt it necessary to carefully define the meaning of the law of gradualness, which should not be understood as gradualness of the law. Gradualness should not make insipid the challenge of the Gospel to conversion, to “go and sin no more”, as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. The aim of recognizing gradualness should be to draw people closer to Christ.” [AC] There is a danger that the principle of graduality “would make one think that the difficulties of married life ought to lead to a reduction of the full meaning of the vocation to marriage itself.” [IA] (+ [IC])

  7. An expression of support and encouragement for those who are living marriage faithfully. The relatio ought to “express words of encouragement and support to those who are faithfully living out their marriage vows and bringing up their families according to the teaching of the Church.” [AA] It ought “to provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for those Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures - strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation within the Church and society. [...] The main thrust should be to encourage those who are committed and witness to the Christian ideal and who struggle day by day, with the help of God’s grace to realize that ideal.” [AB] (+ [AC], [HA])

  8. A re-balancing of the document between problems and a positive message, in favor of the latter. “We should not fall into the trap of thinking, or in some way conveying, that marriage and family are a failure, no longer appropriate to our times.” [AC] (+ [AB], [IB], [HB])

  9. The presentation of an attractive message about the family. The relatio “should direct itself towards young people, to help them understand and be attracted by the Christian vision of marriage and the family, in a world in which they are exposed to many contradictory visions.” [AB] “We must not lose sight of the fact that there are many marriages that – despite the ups and downs of life – do radiate harmony and love, where children are raised in a safe environment, are nurtured and educated in virtue and the values taught to us by Christ, and where the family is truly a domestic Church.” [AC] Marriage is a ““mutual gift of self.” Like this a strong emphasis is given to Christ the Lord, Bridegroom of the Church: a spousal relationship that began with the Incarnation, made complete on Calvary and current for humanity through the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments; only in this way are the beauty and attractiveness of spousal and family life made to shine as signs of the love of Christ.” [IA] The family is “a school for sanctification, in which the path of holiness of the spouses and of children is nurtured and followed[. It] must be a special nursery for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. For these reasons, the Church proclaims the value and beauty of the family, by which it provides service to a world that yearns for illumination by the light of hope.” [IC] (+ [HB])

  10. A focus on openness to life. “In many areas of the world children are seen as a burden rather than a gift of God. The group stressed that children are really the supreme gift of marriage. Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love will help couples to be ready with generous hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.” [AB] (+ [HA])

  11. An emphasis on the mystical and self-giving nature of sex. “The gift of self in marriage, which in some way manifests the self-giving of Jesus Christ to his people, reaches its fullest expression in sexual intercourse, where the couple express their total giving of self to other, emotionally, physically and spiritually, and not as a selfish self-gratification. It is in such self-giving that we become more human and more Christ-like.” [AC] (+ [HA])

  12. Addressing the needs of older people. “The lengthening of life is creating situations of serious difficulty that the Church should not be unprepared for, but, on the contrary, should have a far-sighted perspective on, by offering pastoral commitments that make its presence and its closeness clear. There are households of elderly people reduced to poverty, lonely elderly people far from the rest of their family and households of elderly people deprived of hope, with the sole desire for death. These realities challenge us and require a credible answer. Our silence would be harmful.” [IB]

  13. An emphasis on the goodness found in all people. We want to “acknowledge that there are seeds of truth and goodness found in the persons involved [in lifestyles that do not lead to human fulfillment], and through dedicated pastoral care these can be appreciated and developed.” [AA] The ““desire for family” is sown by the Creator in the heart of every person, even those faithful who, for various reasons,do not live fully in line with the Word of Christ.” [IC] (+ [IA], [HA])

  14. An emphasis on being a welcoming Church. We have a “strong desire to invite and embrace sincere Catholics who feel alienated from the family of the Church because of irregular situations.” [AB] We want “to care for individuals with same sex attraction, providing for them in the family of the Church, always protecting their dignity as children of God, created in his image. Within the Church, they should find a home” [AB] “We rightly wish to welcome, without judgement or condemnation, those who, for some reason, are not yet able to express life-long commitment in a marriage between a man and a woman. We wish also to give them encouragement, to help them recognize their own goodness, and to care for them as Christ cares for his sheep. We wish them to know that they are loved by God and rejected neither by him nor the Church. [...] The document must be a positive expression of the Church’s love for all people, the love which knows no bounds and which welcomes sinners and those who are made to be on the fringes of society.” [AC] (+ [HA])

  15. A reiteration of the need for accessible language. We must “use language which does not hurt people but which encourages them and helps them in their journey to God. It must speak the Truth of the Gospel clearly and directly, using language that cannot be interpreted by some to be condemning them, but rather expressing the Church’s deep interest and care for them.” [AA] “The group felt that it could well draw on the testimonies - and the language - of the lay men and women who addressed the Synod. [...] The narrative [should not] end up marginalizing or discouraging those [who] are still struggling.” [AB] To “leverage on the positive elements that are already present in imperfect family experiences.” [IC]

  16. A variety of positions were taken with regard to the reception of the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried: some against [AA], others in favor of access on a case-by-case basis [AB], others proposing specific conditions under which it could be possible [IC], others asking for further study of the arguments [IA] [HB], while others did not mention it [AC], [IB], [HA].

  17. The suggestion for pastors to recognize their own failures “and their inadequacies in fostering support for families.” [AB]

  18. Emphasizing the positive role of lay movements. ([IB], [IC], [HA])

  19. Emphasizing the role of women. [IA]

  20. A recognition of the family as the subject of pastoral work. [IA] (+ [HA])

  21. Surprise at the publication of the “relatio post disceptationem”. [AC] [IC]

Finally, let me conclude with a passage that spoke to me particularly strongly, from the summary of the Anglicus B working group:
“Very often when we find the courage to knock on forbidden doors what we discover surprises us: what we encounter inside is the loving presence of God which helps us to address the challenges of today, no longer on our terms, but in new ways which might otherwise have been unimaginable. Knocking on forbidden or unaccustomed doors involves risk and courage. Fear and anxiety of what we think are forbidden doors may mean excluding opening ourselves to the God who always surprises.”

1 Since I don’t speak French, I’ll only look at 8 of the 10 groups here. Note also that I have tagged quotes with a two-letter code. The first letter indicates the language group: A - Anglicus (English), I - Italicus (Italian) and H - Hibericus (Spanish), and the second letter which of the two (A, B) or three (A, B, C) groups speaking the same language is meant. Indicating groups at the end of a point in brackets means that they too brought up a topic, even if I don’t quote them verbatim.