Saturday, 10 October 2015

Synod15: every family is light in darkness

Synod juice

Yesterday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ intervention at the Synod has been published, in which he spoke out against the temptation to fall into traditionalist and liberal camps and where he called for a focus on the family being a joy, rather than predominantly a problem:
“[Let us give] our attention first and consistently to the family not as a focus of problems but the first place in which the drama of the working of grace and nature is to be found. And in this work, we know that “God is not bound by his sacraments” (CCC 1257). [...]

Despite all the difficulties they face, most people want to speak, again and again, of the love they have for their family, which gives meaning to everything they do.

We must do the same. If our focus becomes fixed on problems we miss the most important message: that every family is a light in the darkness. At the heart of the work of this Synod must be this: the joy of the family.

Many families give a powerful witness to the Church. We must both learn from this witness and bring it to the great stage of the Church and the world. We must be taught by the family especially about how to face difficult problems.

Most families never withdraw a loving welcome home, even when dismayed by certain behaviour. We, the entire Church, must learn this pathway of “tough love”, a love that is compassionate, honest, and always seeking to find and nurture all that is good, as illuminated by the Gospel.”
One of the aspects of the working of the Synod that has come across very strongly from various Synod Fathers (e.g., see the Synod blogs of Abbot Jeremias Schröder OSB and Archbishop Mark Coleridge for frank, daily impressions) is a sense of confusion. Confusion about method, expectations, purpose, process ... In the press conference yesterday, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle also made reference to this sense of confusion, but he pointed to it being a good thing:
“definitely it has caused … a bit of confusion. But it’s good to be confused once in a while. If things are always clear, then we might not be in real life anymore.”
In an excellent article yesterday, Fr. James Martin, SJ argued that the sense of confusion that the Synod Fathers are experiencing may have its roots in Ignatian “group discernment”, which
“begins with the belief that God wants a person, or a group, to make good, healthy and life-giving decisions; and through the “discernment of spirits,” that is, sorting out what is coming from God and what is not, one gains clarity into the best path. God therefore both wants and enables individuals and groups to arrive at good decisions.”
Fr. Martin then proceeds to elaborate five aspects of this process (very much worth reading in full), which “is by its very nature is messy, confusing and even chaotic”: freedom, complete openness, patience, significant time for prayer, and confirmation. In a brief Salt and Light interview, Archbishop Matthew Ma-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna, Nigeria emphasized the need for formation so that parents may exercise their sharing in Christ’s priestly office:
“Looking at the ministerial priesthood, it takes at least six years, a minimum of six years to train a priest to look after the church, you know. And how many months do we take preparing parents, couples who want to become parents in the future? If you look at it, its very short term. In some places it is nonexistent. Therefore it is my belief that if we want parents to be able to minister, to pastoral their flock within the family very well, then we need to arm them, we need to train them, we need to support them so that they know what their ministry is all about, so that eventually, when they have children, when they form a family, they will be able to look after them very well.”
Returning to Abbot Jeremias Schröder’s latest blog post, which contains a good summary of the 13 working group reports, also leads to a particularly insightful reflection about gender ideology, which has often been brought up as an evil that is to be condemned during these last days, typically without more than a declaration of it being harmful. Here Abbot Schröder’s thoughts to me are an example of looking for what is good everywhere and of having a more nuanced approach:
“[At the Synod there is] proper outrage when the gender ideology is mentioned, i.e., the belief that gender roles are social constructs that can be changed at will. The unanimity of indignation awakens in me and some others now, however, already a concern. In gender studies there are, in addition to the well-known ideological exaggerations, also meaningful core insights: how we live our being men and women is not only biology but is also influenced by our social traditions, our personal values ​​and so on. When I look at the three generations of mothers in my family, I see that the in which their being mothers is lived very differently. Here, the Synod ought to use not only outraged but also wise words; otherwise we will just make ourselves look ridiculous if we issue undifferentiated blanket statements.”
Today then, during the press conference, we have had the first news about the 75 interventions on the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris - entitled “The Discernment of the Family Vocation” - that took place yesterday and this morning.

Topics covered during these interventions included marriage as a vocation of equal dignity with priesthood and religious life, the spirituality of the family, the importance of prayer and the Eucharist, a focus on sanctification and the importance of closeness and tenderness in the context of mercy. Not putting mercy and truth in opposition and the importance of welcome that the Church needs to show towards all, towards all families, including those that are in difficulties were also emphasized. The prophetic nature of the indissolubility of marriage was also underlined as was its being positive instead of a yoke.

Fr. Rosica, in his update about the English language interventions reported the following contribution from the Synod Fathers:
“Unless we acknowledge openly people’s situations, we will not be able to address those situations clearly. Mercy towards sinners is not a form of weakness, nor an abandonment of church teaching. We have to learn how to speak the truth in love in many situations, because in many situations people are completely powerless over what has befallen them. And our communities of faith have to be communities that welcome people.”