Monday, 12 October 2015

Synod15: families more important than institutions

Pope francis blur

Since my last post on the Synod on the Family, which today enters it’s second week, there have been a number of interviews and intervention texts published.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, in his intervention during one of the General Congregations, spoke about a strong need for change in the language used to speak about marriage and of the need to propose rather than just oppose:
“Our young people make their decisions on marriage and the family within the context of a flawed and antagonistic social culture. It is however not enough to condemn that culture. We have somehow to evangelise that culture. The Synod is called to revitalise the Church’s pastoral concern for marriage and the family and to help believers to see family life as an itinerary of faith. But simply repeating doctrinal formulations alone will not bring the Gospel and the Good News of the Family into an antagonistic society. We have to find a language which helps our young people to appreciate the newness and the challenge of the Gospel.

Where do we find that language? Certainly it cannot be a language which reduces the fullness of the Church’s teaching. We have to find a language which is a bridge to the day-to-day reality of marriage – a human reality, a reality not just of ideals, but of struggle and failure, of tears and joys. Even in within a flawed social culture of the family there are those who seek something more and we have to touch their hearts.

Allow me to give an example. We talk about indissolubility. Most families would not feel that they live indissolubility; they live fidelity and closeness and care in ways we underestimate. As a student, I worked in a centre for prisoners which held a space for women who had to travel long distances before going to visit their spouses in prison. These women were not models of respectable society. They would hardly have been able to pronounce indissolubility. But these women never missed a weekly visit. They understood fidelity, even to a husband who might have betrayed them. And their visit humanised even for a few moment the life of a man whose hope was low.”
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, archbishop of Perugia, made an important observation about family taking precedence over institutions:
“[In our working group we have] the smallest member of the Synod, Davide, a boy of four months. So, there we have no need for elaborating a definition of the family. The mum every now and again leaves, she goes to breastfeed Davide, because it is clear that the dynamics of the family are more important than those of institutions.”
Cardinal Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo from Burkina Faso then spoke about his expectations for the Synod being a clarification of what living the Gospel means today:
“We expect from this Synod to be precise for Christians and the whole world about what God’s plan is for man, for woman, for marriage and for family life. [...] The Gospel doesn’t change. It is our understanding that can change, improve. So, we have our customs, but what is important for us is to know Christ, to love Christ, to be like Christ. That is, living the Gospel.”
Another example of Gospel-based courage comes from the words of Greek-Catholic Hungarian Bishop Fülöp Kocsis:
“We must assess a situation only sociologically, but through the optics of faith: with the strength of this hope there is nothing to fear, because the hope is that we are already saved. We talked, for example, about the attacks on the Church made by the world, but we mustn’t defend ourselves, though, because Jesus Christ has already defeated the devil and conquered death. This starting point, therefore, is very important.”
In his intervention at the Synod, Bishop Mario Grech of Malta spoke out against ideologizing faith and for of putting one’s faith into practice under the specific circumstances of their life, however imperfect they may be: “When theology becomes ideology, the Christian loses their faith and no longer remains a disciple of Jesus. [...] The values and virtues that make us conform to the will of God and that are fully established and proven in the future kingdom of God, must be practiced now, to the extent that is possible under the imperfect and sinful circumstances of life in the present time, as the parables of the net and the harvest teach.” Bishop Grech then expressed his support for the type of approach taken in Orthodox Christianity with regard to marriage, where the principle of oikonomia os applied:
“[The logic of oikonomia is] the logic of the approximation of the imperfect towards the ideal situation in a particular case. Every human action is in tension towards the ideal and therefore is an approximation to the ‘ideal’. [...] A morally good life does not mean that a person has reached perfection, but rather that the believer is committed and struggles to reach perfection.

The tradition of the Eastern Church states, through the principle of akribeia, that full sacramental marriage is one and must not be dissolved. On the other hand, using the principle of oikonomia, it realizes pastoral mediation in the spirit of indulgence, especially when a person finds themselves in an irreversible situation.”

Pastoral power is not simply in service of the ideal, but for the good of the faithful and can not forget the concrete conditions of life of the believer themselves. A parallel can be drawn between the relationship between akribeia and oikonomia, and the one between justice and pastoral mercy. Two aspects, not opposites, two dimensions of one reality that is developed step by step until it culminates in the fullness of love.”
Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, Superior General of the Jesuits, also made an important point about mercy versus doctrine in an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera:
“[In order to make theory and mercy – apparently so antithetical – converge, we must] make room for mercy in the law. For, the law, as we have it in the Church today, is not always also merciful. The law has principles that must be clear. Mercy, on the contrary, is not clear; it always has some ambiguity, because it is impossible to know the depth of the human heart, its weaknesses. Charity cannot be standardized. I have in mind Paul VI, who said to the priests: these are the principles, but please be pastors; accompany people in their reality. Others, on the contrary, have said and say: you have to be pastors, but these are the principles. Apparently, this is the same, but the order is reversed.”
Finally, the moments that stood out from today’s press conference, where the interventions relating already to part 3 of the instrumentum laboris were covered, while the working groups are focusing on part 2, were the following quotes from (unnamed) English-speaking Synod participants:
“For God, no human being is a stranger.”

“Our main task is not, in first place, to tell moral laws and point out sins to people, but it is to show the beauty and value of Christian marriage and the necessity of families through which humanity passes. Sometimes the best thing we can do in such complex, secular situations is to give the testimony of one’s life. A testimony of fidelity and joy.”
Looking back at this post and the several I have already put together about the Synod, the impression may arise that I am being selective about what I share here, that I may omit interventions or interviews that are contrary to my own perspective. This is certainly not my intention and the harmony of what I have shared so far is rooted in the harmony of what I have read coming from the Synod in Rome. Over the weekend, however, I have also come across an interview whose content I do not agree with and that seems dissonant with the rest of what I am reading from the Synod, but I think it is more important to know about it than to pretend that voices like it do not exist. As a result, here are excerpts from an interview with Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, who refers to “the Church’s teaching against homosexuality”:
“It is there in the Bible. It is clear. I think there is not much option. There are facts, such as the fact that God created humanity as Adam and Eve. Whenever someone starts running away from their identity, whatever they do will certainly not be the right thing. If we come to the point of saying that can be changed, there is no logic behind it, with all due respect. Where there is a mistake, a way must be found to help people who have made the mistake to understand that they have done something wrong and need to turn around. It’s not a question of criminalizing or condemning, but we have every right to help the person understand that the way you are living is not how you’re supposed to be.”