Friday, 16 October 2015

Synod15: God’s love is wide enough to encompass all

Francis homeless shelter

Yesterday and today, the Synod Fathers heard from 15 of the "auditors" - mostly married couples, who are there at the Synod. The full texts of these have been published and the following is the passage that stood out for me, in what I have to say reads like a pretty mixed bag:
"We should not continually separate husband and wife for ministry in the parish, but rather let their sacrament shine by allowing them to work as a team. [...] If a church is meant to be a family of families, then we should encourage our seminarians to be priests in love with their people, not merely priests in charge of a parish. Our faith is based on relationship with God, but it is learned and lived out in relationship with others. (Tony Witczak, USA)"
This morning also saw interventions (published in full) from the "fraternal delegates", i.e., representatives of other Christian churches. Here the Syrian-Orthodox Archbishop of Zahle and Bekaa in Lebanon spoke particularly beautifully about the Eucharist:
"[The] Eastern Orthodox Church believes in the principle of economy which in Aramaic is mdabronutho. This principle finds the sacrament of the Eucharist to be a medicine for wounded souls, as well as an aid for people who want to recover their relationship with the Lord. Such a sacrament, that is effectively a salvific one, should not be part of the standards of punishment, except in some exceptional cases. The Eucharist is not a prize or a reward, but the means through which the Lord Jesus heals our weaknesses, and draws us to him. As Pope Francis said in his Corpus Christi homily last year: "The Eucharist is not a prize for the good, but the strength of sinners.""
Timothy Thornton, the Anglican bishop of Truro, emphasized the persistence of change in the life of a family and of the Church:
"A key part of families is that they change. Whenever you’re privileged to be a part of a family in its journey as a pastor you’re seeing a snapshot, a moment in time which has both a history and a future. We see a glimpse and don’t always fully understand, nor should we be given the privilege of being with the family throughout its journey.

All families change. When a couple announce their engagement they’re already looking to the future with hope, joy and some concern. When a couple marry they‘re full of plans about the future. When a baby is born the parents enjoy the moment but immediately they look to the future and wonder. We don’t want the baby to stay a baby that would be very odd. We hope and pray it will grow, develop and mature.

Change is a key part of the Christian faith. It’s at the heart of who we are and what we believe. Just look around this Hall and see all the change that’s taking place all the time. Every day we’re called to be converted to Christ, turn away from sin and turn to God. Every day we open ourselves to the possibility of transformation. That’s why all Christians are full of joy and hope every day. I was thrilled when I read Evangelii Gaudium, the joy of the gospel. That is what we all need to put before people. I’m sorry to say the biggest problem that faces my denomination is that we, as Christians, appear irrelevant to many people. We appear dull, boring and lacking in any sense of joy or hope."
Dr. Tim MacQuiban, Director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome, concluded his intervention with a call for being welcoming towards all:
"The family, however defined, is the place of mutual care and concern, compassion and helpfulness, giving and receiving, sharing and discipline, forgiving and being forgiven, whether in the traditional family or the family of faithful disciples who constitute local ecclesial communities. The Kingdom of God into which we are called is one of mercy and grace. God’s love is wide enough to encompass all. The Church which witnesses to God’s love revealed supremely in Jesus Christ should reflect this with appropriate teaching and pastoral support of those who embrace a single state or relationships without the blessing of the “gift” of children so that they may feel included and welcomed within the “household of faith”, the Church."
Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, spoke with great conviction about the need to offer Jesus' friendship and not our own judgment to those around us:
"Amidst such experiences [of dysfunction] people yearn for mercy. Hence, in Baptist hymnology, Jesus as friend, is an important theme. Hymns such as "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and "There is Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus," express for us the presence of God in the midst of our imperfections and struggles. They remind us of the one who in his vocation of suffering servant enters our woundedness. This is the one who invites sinners to sit at his table; the one who is "gentle and humble in heart, in whom we find rest for our souls" (Matt 11:29); the one to whom we pray in all confidence, "Lord, have mercy."

This is the presence of Christ and his church the world longs for but seldom expects. Instead they see us abandoning them in the midst of their greatest personal struggles. Two years ago, I was on a midnight flight and I was squeezed next to a young man 20 years old. During our 3 hour flight he kept waking me as he ordered one gin and tonic after another. By his fourth he was quite talkative and he began to pour out to me, a stranger, the heartbreak of his life. He was on his way home, having been arrested for possession of marijuana. He had a learning disorder and could not read - a fact that brought him much shame throughout his school years. His family life was a mess. And on it went for half an hour or more when he then asked me, "So, what do you do?" "I am a Baptist minister," I replied. What he said next hurt me deeply: "So, I guess you have just been sitting there judging me." "No, Son," I said, "my heart has been breaking for you."

This is the question the world asks the church, "Does God's heart break for me? Does the church's heart break for me?" Does this Jesus still invite sinners to his table? In the imperfection of our lives, can we discover through you, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear?""
An interesting observation made by a Synod Father, that reminded me of von Balthasar's way of speaking about the Trinity as the "transcendent origin" of human sexuality, was the intervention of Archbishop Mark Coleridge during one of the "free" discussion sessions, who said that:
"the Eucharist is in some sense sexual. At its epicentre are the words of Christ: “This is my body given for you”. This is what redeemed sexuality is – as distinct from unredeemed sexuality which says: “This is your body taken for me”. If the Eucharist is in some sense sexual, so too is married sexuality in some sense Eucharistic. We need to explore that connection more deeply, and in that task married couples have to lead the way."
On a related topic, Fr. Manuel Dorantes - the Spanish speaking assistant to Fr. Federico Lombardi - reported the following intervention by a Synod Father during today's press conference, saying:
"The topic of marriage preparation, especially sexual education, was discussed and there was a request for the Church to enter into this context in a clear way, given that current sexual education is very negative and disastrous. And often the parents in a family themselves don't speak about the beauty of sexuality with their own children, leaving this task to public education. The Church herself needs to take on this role and present the Good News of human sexuality as a path of love and not as a path of sin."
And finally, let's again conclude with Pope Francis' homily from this morning, where he attacked hypocrisy:
"Hypocrisy has no color, rather it plays with half-tones. It insinuates and seduces in a "chiaroscuro", with the allure of the lie. In today's reading, Jesus and the disciples are in the midst of a crowd that is so packed that people are trampling on each other's feet, highlighting Christ's frank warning to his disciples: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees". It is a very small thing, yeast, but Jesus talks about it as if to say "virus". Like a doctor who says to his collaborators to pay attention to the risks of an epidemic.

Hypocrisy is that way of living, of act, of speaking that is not clear. Maybe it smiles, maybe it is serious ... It isn't light, it isn't shade ... It moves in a way that seems not to threaten anyone, like the serpent, but it has the charm of the chiaroscuro. It has the charm of things not being clear, of not saying things clearly; the charm of lies, of appearances ... To the Pharisees, hypocrites, Jesus also said that they were full of themselves, of vanity, they liked to walk in the streets by showing that they were important, educated people ...

Jesus, however, reassures the crowd. "Do not be afraid," he says, because "there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known." As if to say that hiding does not help, even though the leaven of the Pharisees lead, and still leads, people to loving darkness more than light.

This yeast is a virus that will make you to get sick and die. Beware! This yeast brings darkness. Beware! But there is one who is greater than this: it is the Father who is in heaven. 'Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.'. And then, in the final exhortation: 'Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows'. In front of all these fears that leave us this way and that way, and that give us the virus, the yeast of pharisaical hypocrisy, Jesus tells us: 'There is a Father. There is a Father who loves you. There is a Father who cares for you'."