Friday, 10 October 2014

Synod14: We aren’t the bosses of God’s mercy

Francis kids

Since the close of yesterday’s sessions of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, several interviews with or full texts of interventions by some Synod Fathers have been published.

The first of these I’d like to share is by Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Brussels, who’s contribution to the Synod was a plea for greater care for the divorced and remarried:
“God is just and merciful. He can’t contradict himself. He can separate good and evil in a great straddle. We, we have difficulty because we are only poor ballet dancers for a moment in the whole of history. [...]

In the first place we are invited to greatly respect our brothers and sisters, the divorced and remarried. Mercy starts where we have unconditional respect for all who want to live within the Church but can’t marry again for the Church and receive Communion. [...]

It is so important to speak with them, to let them speak about the beauty of marriage and the Christian family. Beauty is so powerful! This is obviously not esthetic beauty, but beauty who is the sister of truth and goodness. According to Aristotle “beauty is truth in all its glory”. Pulchrum est splendor veri.

Among our contemporaries there is much scepticism about the truth; even goodness can discourage, but beauty disarms. Beauty heals. Archimedes said about our world today, “Give me a place to stand and I will lift the world.”

The divorced and remarried are not the only suffering children, but there are far more than we think. My appeal – in all simplicity – is: to love God’s children. Their pain and suffering is often great. They don’t immediately ask for the regulations of the Church to change. Their cry is rather one to the shepherds with their hearts in the right place, why carry the wounded lamb on their shoulders. Beauty disarms. We hold the cards: there is indeed nothing more beautiful than Christian marriage and a deeply faithful family. But we must communicate the truth to divorced and remarried people – delicately – with the words of Saint Francis in mind, which he spoke to the superiors of his small communities, “never let anyone leave you in sadness”.”
Archbishop Denis Hart, the President of the Australian Bishop’s Conference, commented on the need for a new language - a “language of love” - and underlined the Church’s concern for all who suffer:
“[The] Catechism of the Catholic Church [speaks] about people being ‘disordered’, things being ‘intrinsically evil’. You say that to a parent who has a gay son or daughter and they just cannot understand that this child whom they love and who they have nurtured - might have chosen a thing that they don’t approve of – but is to be totally rejected because of that. And I think we have to be faithful to our doctrine and our teaching and practice have to go hand in hand, but we can do so with mercy and love and help people to realize that whatever may be the challenges that our in their life, they are respected and loved by the Church. [...]

There are people who are separated and divorced, there are people who are same-sex attracted, there are people who are really struggling in their marriage, and wondering how they will go. The bishops have been emphasizing that we are pastors. When our people suffer we feel for them, when our people are bereaved we cry with them, when our people are burdened with sickness we struggle with them, when people are uncertain about where they can go or are suffering terrible material poverty the Church has to be there with them. I think this is the genius of Pope Francis. The great thing that concerns us in this is Synod is our love for our people and our ability to walk with them.”
There are, however, also voices at the Synod, like that of Cardinal Raymond Burke - the current Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (whom Pope Francis removed from the Congregation for Bishops last year), who are opposed to a renewal of pastoral practice, e.g., saying that “[i]f homosexual relations are intrinsically disordered, which indeed they are — reason teaches us that and also our faith — then, what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another person?”

There is also an important presence of members of other churches, religions and those who hold no religious beliefs at the Synod, who make important contributions. For example, the Anglican Rev. Paul Buttler, provided the following great synthesis of what the Synod is about:
“I think we actually need to reimagine family life again and help people grasp how important steadfastness, faithfulness to one another really is and offer much more support in times of difficulty. We have to be honest - the difficulties happen.”
Last night I also discovered a great blog by the Archbishop Droucher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he recounts his experiences of the Synod, including a summary of his own intervention:
“What I especially wanted to say was that we should not only focus on what is negative in the world which is ours. True, there are many broken families, abandoned children, deeply wounded individuals. It is true that sexuality is often lived more as a leisure activity than as a true loving language of deep self-giving to another. It is also true that less and less couples are choosing marriage today. However, there are also positive realities in our world today. I named the commitment to equality between men and women in marriage, the refusal of all violence to children and women, the growing role of fathers in the affective life of their children, the place given to communication, mutual respect and healthy relationships. All of this is good and should be recognized and celebrated by Church leaders, creating openings for dialogue with society where the Church can proclaim its humanizing teaching on family, marriage and sexuality.”
I also liked Archbishop Droucher’s immediacy in his blog, where the follows his intervention’s summary by saying “And thus did I finish my four minutes of great nervousness (my hands were shaking) and adrenaline rush.” :)

Yesterday afternoon’s (8th) session was then focused on Christian education, where the French couple, Olivier and Xristilla Roussy, shared in their opening testimony that:
“Our mission as parents is above all to awaken our children to holiness. Like all of us, they too face the many temptations of the world and, with humility, we try to make them grow in freedom and generosity, to teach them the senses of discernment, decision making and perseverance. We help them develop their life project under the gaze of God. In spite of the difficult pace of modern life, we seek to be attentive to each one of them and give them plenty of time, both all together and individually.”
The notes provided about the following discussion started with:
“an invitation to the faithful to deepen their knowledge of Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, thus better understanding the meaning of the use of natural methods of fertility control and the non-acceptance of contraception. Union and procreation, it was said, are not separate from the conjugal act.”
The importance of appropriate marriage preparation was revisited, and - I believe, importantly - linked to the preparation for religious life:
“as its celebration seems to be increasingly reduced to the social and legal status, rather than a religious and spiritual bond. The preparatory course, it was noted, is often perceived by couples as an imposition, a task to complete without conviction, and as a result it is too brief. Since marriage is a vocation for life, preparation for it should be long and detailed, as in the case of preparation for religious life.”
The other side of the marriage preparation coin - that of the adequate preparation of priests to lead it - was addressed next:
“The Assembly went on to insist on the importance of good preparation for priests in relation to the pastoral care of marriage and the family, and remarked that homilies can be used as a special and effective moment for proclaiming the Gospel of the family to the faithful. It was commented that there is a need for formation and information, as the spiritual holiness of the priest, his creativity and his direct relationship with families are particularly appreciated by the faithful.”
This morning then saw experiences shared by couples and lay experts, who are not voting participants but “listeners” instead. Here the notes point to themes that were very much the same as during the preceding days, with an added emphasis on the need for closer collaboration between the laity and the Church’s hierarchy, also in the context of the laity’s involvement in public and secular life. The challenge of caring for the growing number of people living in solitude (irrespective of their association with the Church) was also highlighted during the following press conference. Importantly, Fr. Lombardi, also mentioned Pope Pius X’s “revolutionary” changes to the reception of the Eucharist by children as opposed to only adults as was previous practice. It was emphasized that this is a different context to the questions facing the divorced and remarried, but that there is precedent to substantial changes. The difficult effects of divorce on children were also lamented, of “ping-pong children” who are oscillating between their parents (and their new partners) and lack stability.

Fr. Manuel Dorantes, reporting on the Spanish speaking Synod Fathers’ contributions (with aplomb, I might add), quoted one of them as saying:
“Above all we must kneel before the Holy Spirit and remember that we aren’t the bosses of God’s mercy. We must remember that the mission that Jesus entrusted to his apostles, and by extension to us as their successors, is to evangelize and to heal. And this means, spreading the Good News.”
Calls for a greater involvement of lay persons, and women in particular, in ecclesiastical tribunals were also reported. Fr. Dorantes then quoted another of the Synod Fathers calling for a greater focus on children: “Brothers, I am the son of divorced parents and I, as their son, experienced the stigma of divorce directed at my parents and directed at me.”

This afternoon the Synod is hearing from “fraternal delegates” - i.e., representatives of other churches and religions, about which there will be a press conference tomorrow and on Monday, Cardinal Erdő will present the report reflecting the week's contributions.