Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Synod15: abandon the old nets

Circoli minori

Since the meetings in small groups (circuli minores) have been underway since yesterday afternoon, the main source of information about the Synod until the small groups publish their reports on the first part of the instrumentum laboris on Friday will be interviews and blog posts by the Synod Fathers.

An example of a much-talked interview here is that with Archbishop Durocher, who proposed that the question of women deacons should be considered, who also spoke out in support of women having decision making authority in the Church and who called for more protagonism of married couples too:
“I propose three other courses of action for this Synod.
  1. That this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents.

  2. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curias.

  3. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium [“not to priesthood, but to ministry”].”

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, shared some important reflections about possible sources of disconnect between what the Church teaches and what those who listen to her hear:
“One fact that has struck me is that certain distinctions upon which the Church has long relied no longer work. [...]

The first is the distinction between public and private. We have long held to a policy of speaking the truth in public, even when it can seem harsh, but negotiating mercy in private. The clarity of the pulpit has been tempered by the tenderness of the confessional. But that no longer works in cultures which prize transparency and authenticity and see such an approach as hypocritical and inauthentic. What we need now are public enactments of mercy, such as we see when Pope Francis says, “Who am I to judge?” in answer to a question about homosexuality, or when he washes the feet of a Muslim woman in a detention centre, or when he makes absolution for the sin of abortion less difficult during the Year of Mercy. He is very much the Pope of public mercy, and as such he points the way forward to the Church as we seek to reconfigure public and private, truth and mercy.

A second distinction that no longer works is the distinction between sin and sinner. We have long said that we condemn the sin but not the sinner. But this has broken down, especially in the area of sexuality. When we say that this or that act is “intrinsically disordered” or evil, we are taken to be saying that the person who commits the act is “intrinsically disordered” or evil. Because sexuality is no longer seen as being a matter of what a person does; it’s seen now as what a person is. It’s a matter of his or her whole being. So we can no longer condemn the sin but not the sinner. We need to think and act our way beyond that, and that’s not easy.

A third distinction I mention concerns the Church and her members. We have long said that the Church “in herself” is the sinless Bride of Christ but that her children can indeed be sinful and often are. It’s as if the Church has some ideal existence above and beyond her children. Of course there’s a way of explaining this theologically to make it sound perfectly sensible. The Church is more than her members; she is the Body of Christ who is the head of the Body. That’s true; but in the minds of most people these days, the distinction doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work at the level of communication. So we need at least to find other more communicative ways to explain what we’re trying to say about sin and the Church.”
Next, Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent and President of Caritas Europa published the 3-minute contribution he made to yesterday’s General Congregation, where he focused on the needs of migrants and refugees and posed the question of whether the permanent diaconate couldn’t provide greater service with the scope of God’s mercy:
“Migrant and refugee families suffer because of social exclusion. They live in poverty and can not take part in social life. It is hard to obtain civil rights in western countries. They have no income and are often not welcome in the area where they end up. Invisible suffering, poverty and anger are growing in our cities because of unemployment, especially among young people. We all know that commerce, industry, banks and technology are omnipresent today and that their free circulation knows no bounds. For people, on the other hands, there are strict boundaries. It is high time that we tell the world that people are the most important. We can not give up these migrant or refugee families and leave them to their own devices. How to give them credible hope? (EG 86).

Service, diakonia, is for the Church the way towards credibility. Thanks to the Second Vatican Council we have permanent deacons. Should we not focus more on the diaconate and service to help separated families? How to give hope to broken families, whatever the reason for their break may be? The cry of families in need must be heard by the Christian community and by the parishes. People in great need are loved by God, the Good Shepherd. They deserve our full attention, regardless of their origin, gender, age, social status, religion or the broken situation they find themselves in. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus went looking for the lost sheep, lost by accident or on purpose. Moses, too, went back to the unfaithful people to lead it to the promised land.

This leads us to the topic of mercy. Who are we to judge, to exclude people who live in situations which make unity impossible? Who are we not to use the means that we have to bring hope and joy to families who have lost all their rights because of war and poverty? We must start from the fact that God sent His Son to all people to save them, not to judge them. His mercy fills our hearts when we encounter actual people who have been excluded and live in exile. What they need is our love, which comes from the love that God has for us.”
Cardinal Schönborn in an interview yesterday spoke with great clarity when asked whether faithfulness, truth and charity can come together:
“If this were not possible, the Church would not be possible, the Gospel would not be possible. The Gospel is a word of truth, but a word of truth in charity. Love without truth is soft and truth without love is hard. Therefore, uniting charity and truth is what the Gospel itself requires. Much has been spoken about conflicts before the Synod, let’s see whether they will be spoken about during the Synod ... In any case, there is a climate of communion and there is fellowship.”
And finally, let’s conclude with Pope Francis’ catechesis from today’s General Audience, whose topic was the “indissoluble” relationship between Church and family, for the good of humanity and where Pope Francis called of an injection of family spirit into society. Particularly poignant here are the two concluding paragraphs, where a call for new nets must resonate strongly with the Synod Fathers as yet another indication of the pope’s will:
“When Jesus called Peter to follow him, he told him that he would make him a “fisher of men”, and for this, a new type of nets is needed. We could say that today families are one of the most important nets for the mission of Peter and of the Church. This is not a net that makes us prisoners. On the contrary, it frees from the evil waters of abandonment and indifference, which drown many human beings in the sea of loneliness and indifference. Families know well the dignity of feeling themselves children and not slaves or strangers, or just a number of an identity card.

From here, from the family, Jesus begins again his passage among human beings, to persuade them that God has not forgotten them. From here Peter gets the vigor for his ministry. From here, obeying the word of the Master, the Church goes out to fish in the deep certain that, if this happens, the fishing will be miraculous. May the enthusiasm of the Synod Fathers, animated by the Holy Spirit, foster the impetus of a Church that abandons the old nets and returns to fish trusting in the word of her Lord. Let us pray intensely for this! As for the rest, Christ has promised and encourages us: if even evil fathers do not refuse bread to their hungry children, just think if God will not give the Spirit to those that -- though imperfect as they are -- asked for it with impassioned insistence (cf. Luke 11:9-13)!”