Today sees the third day of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, as well as the publication of various interviews with the Synod Fathers over the course of the last 24 hours, who are left free to speak to the media outside the discussions held within the Synod. I believe that this is a great innovation and one that gives a strong sense of transparency to the process.
Here I would like to pick out some words of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the superior general of the Jesuits, who said that “there can be more Christian love in a couple who lives in irregular circumstances than one married in church,” echoing Benedict XVI saying that “agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our[, the Church’s,] sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is “routine” and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith.” Fr. Nicolas is also reported as saying: “A divorced person has suffered, but we withdraw medicine from him or her who needs it most. No, this cannot be!”
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin’s intervention in the Synod has also been reported in more detail, where he is quoted as saying:
“[M]any men and women, without making explicit reference to the teaching of the Church, actually live out the value of marital fidelity day-by-day, at times heroically. They would hardly recognise their own experience in the way we present the ideals of married life. Indeed many in genuine humility would probably feel that they are living a life which is distant from the ideal of marriage as presented by Church teaching.”Martin then proceeded to make a plea for an “incarnated” teaching, close to the reality of people’s lives:
“To many the language of the Church appears to be a disincarnated language of telling people what to do, a “one way dialogue”. I am in no way saying that the Church is not called to teach. I am not saying that experience on its own determines teaching or the authentic interpretation of teaching. What I am saying is that the lived experience and struggle of spouses can help find more effective ways of expression of the fundamental elements of Church teaching. Jesus himself accompanied his preaching the good news with a process of healing the wounded and welcoming those on the margins. His teaching was never disincarnated and unmoved by the concrete human situation in which people could come to be embraced by the Good News. Jesus’ care for the sick and the troubled and those weighed down by burdens is the key which helps to understand how he truly is the Son of God.”Finally, in a brief interview with Cardinal Nichols there is, I believe, an example of what such new language (and more!) might look like, when he says:
“The family is a place of prayer, the family is a place of shared faith, the family is a place where failure is accepted and worked through, because we want to live by the compassion and the forgiveness that the Lord offers.Turning to today’s proceedings, the program started with an address by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, where he first gave an account of happy family life:
I don’t doubt that most young people aspire to having their own family, having their own family within the stable relationship between husband and wife, having that family with a sense of permanence and a permanent, faithful commitment. Nobody wants a wife or a husband who is unfaithful. And so what we have to get across to people is that casual relationships before marriage is actually being casual with somebody’s future husband or wife. And its that sense of the real value that’s written in us, its in the hearts of people, that they aspire to, that has consequences for how we behave today as well.”
“[W]hen husband and wife are happy together and are blessed with children, then love expands from two to three and four and five. In a family, there is every opportunity to be patient and kind and excusing and trusting. There is every opportunity to renew faithfulness to one another by laughing together, crying together, supporting one another, saying sorry to one another, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, embracing one another, being happy for each other, just knowing the right word at the right time. And when those things happen, we are privileged to behold the beauty and simplicity and strength of married love and of family love, a love which truly through the grace of Christ endures all things.”It is against this backdrop that Tartaglia then declares the need for the Church to help those for whom the above picture does not hold:
“But when families fracture, love is the first casualty. The love which was the glue between spouses turns to hate very quickly. Intimate communion of life is replaced with a terrible logic of division. Children’s peace of heart is shattered and they find themselves both loving and hating their parents at the same time.The press conference that took place again at 1 pm, saw a reading out of notes from yesterday afternoon’s and this morning’s session, followed by additional comments made by Fr. Rosica on the basis of English and French contributions during the sessions, including the observation that “[w]e must appeal to the Bible over language of natural law, when we root ourselves in scripture it has a positive effect,” commenting that while natural law is like a fixed spotlight, the Bible speaks about a soft light that is among us and walks with us (i.e., Jesus).1 On a related point, Fr. Dorantes, representing Spanish speakers, used another image about light, saying that the Synod Fathers argued that the Church needs to move from being like a lighthouse that is fixed in place, to being like a torch that men and women can carry with them to shed light on their lives.
Into this sadness, the Church has to find a way to speak St Paul’s words of love, which compassionately excuse and forgive, but which also heal and renew and lift up again; where forgiveness is not accommodation or indifference but genuine and sometimes hard-won reconciliation, engendering new trust, new hope, new endurance, and new faithfulness, a new page in the story of love of husband and wife and their children.”
The Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, who was also present at the press conference, spoke about the Nigerian bishop’s opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuality:
“We would defend any person with a homosexual orientation who is being harassed, imprisoned or punished….so when the media takes our story they should balance it….we try to share our point of view (but) we don’t punish them. The government may want to punish them but we don’t, in fact we will work to tell the government to stop punishing those who have different orientations.”The notes from yesterday afternoon’s session were then published, where a link was made between faith and the family, where “the crisis of faith and the crisis of the family was underlined: it was said that the first generates the second. This is because faith is seen mostly as a set of doctrinal mores, whereas it is primarily a free act by which one entrusts oneself to God.” The impact of working conditions on family life and a focus on issues particularly relevant in Africa followed (including “polygamy, levirate marriage, sects, war, poverty, the painful crisis of migration, international pressure for birth control, and so on”).
The notes from this morning’s session then speak about challenges faced in the Middle East and North Africa, where there are “difficult political, economic and religious situations, with serious repercussions on families.” Here the response to a variety of challenges was always along the lines that “Such couples [...] must not be neglected and the Church must continue to take care of them” and that “the need to follow the path of mercy in difficult situations was underlined.” The discussion then turned to challenges arising from unstable employment and unemployment:
“The distress caused by the lack of a secure job creates difficulties within families, along with the poverty that often prevents families from having a home. Furthermore, a lack of money often leads to it becoming “deified” and to families being sacrificed on the altar of profit. It is necessary to re-emphasise that money must serve rather than govern.”And finally, “[t]here was further reflection on the need for greater preparation for marriage, also with special attention to emotional and sexual education, encouraging a true mystical and familiar approach to sexuality.”
1 Note that this relates very well also to Pope Francis’ catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, where he said: “God forgives always, we men forgive sometimes, but creation never forgives.”