The first output of this year’s Synod came today in the form of the small groups’ reports on the first part of the Instrumentum Laboris, which offers an analysis of the current challenges of the family. In a press conference today, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle characterized instrumentum laboris documents in general as being “martyr” documents in the sense that they have to die so that new life may be born. Looking at the reports of the circuli minores that’s certainly the case for this Synod too.
What I would like to do next is to pull together the contents of the English, Italian, Spanish and German reports, grouping it by topic and using acronyms of the source group names from their official list (i.e., AA will refer to Circulus Anglicus “A”):
- Announce the Good News for families clearly and attractively.
AA: “we recommend the words of Pope Francis who vividly engaged families at the Saturday Vigil for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with the invitation: “So great was (God’s) love, that He began to walk with humanity, with His people, until the right moment came, and He made the highest expression of love - His own Son. And where did He send his son - to a palace? To a city? No.He sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family. And He could do this, because it was a family that had a truly open heart!””
AB: “The group felt that the language of the final document should be a more simple language, accessible to families, showing also that the Synod Fathers had listened to and heard their contribution and comments to the synodal process.”
AC: “We also considered certain phrases which have become commonplace in Church documents, among them “the Gospel of the family” and “the domestic Church”. These were vivid and illuminating formulations when they first appeared, but in the meantime they have become clichés, which are less clear in their meaning than they are usually assumed to be. We felt that it may be a good thing if they were given a rest and if we chose instead to use a language which was more accessible to those unfamiliar with our particular speak.”
AD: “Still others thought that the text lacked anything that would attract people. If the document is destined to the general public, they felt that stories from family life, or the lives of the saints along with illustrations, should be included to make the material more compelling. They stressed the need to review the language of the document and ensure that it appeals to both men and women, leaving no one out.”
IC: “The recommendation has emerged that in the review of the document, we proceed very carefully to facilitate the text, to clean it of overly technical language and to enrich it with different points of view.”
HB: “point to positive experiences: movements, domestic catechumenate, formed and forming families, family support programs and bioethics at universities and colleges.”
G: “So we suggest and ask, at the beginning of the first chapter to add a section that describes the beauty of marriage, the mission of marriages and families, and draw on the concerns and observations of Pope Francis. Gratefully and with awe we perceive that marriage is called to participate in the creative power of God and in His work of redemption. [...] In the constitution of the texts it should be ensured that religious and theological positions are understandable not only internally, but are also accessible in a secular environment. This calls for a “cultural translation”, as it were an inculturation. For the editing of the final document this means, whether a negatively delimiting and normative judgmental language prevails (forensic style) or a positive language that unfolds the Christian position is used, where the two are incompatible from a Christian perspective.”
- Avoid overly bleak analysis of status quo.
AA: “speak less of “crisis” and more of “lights and shadows.””
AB: “the analysis of the difficulties which the family faces was too negative.”
AC: there “needs to be a less negative reading of history, culture and the situation of the family at this time. True, there are negative forces at work at this time in history and in the various cultures of the world; but that is far from the full story. If it were the full story, all the Church could do would be to condemn. There are also forces which are positive, even luminous, and these need to be identified, since there may well be the signs of God in history.”
AD: “Most of our group felt the IL should begin with hope rather than failures because a great many people already do successfully live the Gospel’s good news about marriage. Our group expressed concern that readers will simply ignore the document if it begins with a litany of negatives and social problems rather than a biblical vision of joy and confidence in the Word of God regarding the family. The huge cloud of challenges pervading the first section of the text unintentionally creates a sense of pastoral despair. [... Some] thought that the language of the text was too careful and politically correct, and because of that, the content was unclear and sometimes incoherent.”
IC: “It has also been pointed out that the diagnosis offered in the document emphasizes the shadows and struggle to highlight the strong positive points emerging from the traversed landscape. [...] Many amendments that our group has proposed are aimed at a positive reading of challenges not only for the family, so that it may become a place of inclusion, overcoming a life set apart (living in an “apartment”), but also for the evangelizing mission of the Church.”
G: “What is necessary here is a differentiated analysis and assessment, in order to contribute to proper and nuanced world exchange between the Church and culture. I would like to clarify this point with an example: Often, in the first chapter there is talk of individualism. As a selfish trait it is undoubtedly a great danger to people’s lives. However, it mustn’t be confused with the individuality of a person. Every single human being is created by God in a very unique and great way and deserves to be respected and have the dignity of their person protected. Our text speaks repeatedly about individualism but little good is said about the positive signs of the times, arising out of respect for the individuality of a person.”
- Present positive vision of sexuality and educate to a culture of self-giving.
AB: “Young people live in an oversexualized culture. They need to be educated to a culture of self-giving, which is the basis of the self-donation of conjugal love. Young people need to develop the ability to live in harmony with emotions and feelings, and to seek mature affective, mature relations with others. This can be an antidote to selfishness and isolation, which often lead young people to a lack of meaning in their lives and even to despair, self-harm, and suicide.”
IA: “In terms of the formation to affectivity, there is a need to mention explicitly the ideal of chastity and the value of self-giving.”
IB: “There is a need to reiterate that the Church has a positive outlook on sexuality, expression of a symphonic tension between eros and agape.”
HA: “There has been a rupture of unity between love, sexuality and procreation. Not only that, but it has also been separated from the educational dimension: the relationship between love, sexuality, marriage, family and the bringing up of children has broken.”
G: “Everyone longs to be loved and to give love. Love is the full and unconditional ‘yes’ to another person - for their own sake, with no ulterior motives and reservations. It is a human trait that love always wants to give. Thus unfolds the marriage in the love for children and other family members. Thus grows the family out of marriage, which radiates in society and the Church. Christian marriage is thus a piece of lived Church.”
- Link more closely and explicitly with Scripture and deposit of faith.
AA: “We discussed a proper methodology, which needs to make reference to Sacred Scripture and Tradition throughout this document as we read the signs of our times in light of the Gospel.”
AB: “The language of Scripture can be closer to the realities of the daily experience of families and can become a bridge between faith and life.”
IB: “The Fathers stressed the importance of the text bringing with it more biblical citations (to find the first one, you have to get to no. 39, p. 32) and some patristic quotes.”
- Express appreciation to families giving Gospel witness and offering support to others.
AB: “[T]he extended family is so often the ordinary means by which men and women are accompanied through every stage of life. The love and support given by and received in so many families on the pilgrimage of life is an expression of the love that God has for his pilgrim people. [... F]amilies who are far from perfect, living in an imperfect world do actually realize their vocation, even though they may fail along their journey.”
AD: “[M]embers felt strongly that even in difficult situations, we need to underline the fact that many Christian families serve as a counter-witness to negative trends in the world by the way they faithfully live the Catholic vision of marriage and the family. These families need to be recognized, honored and encouraged by the document.”
- Avoid overly Euro-centric or Western mindset in wording.
AA: use “a cultural tone that is global and that is open to the richness and real experiences of families today, in various nations and continents.”
AD: “Members said that some of the sections seemed narrow in scope and excessively inspired by West European and North American concerns, rather than a true presentation of the global situation. Some of the members thought that terms like “developing nations” and “advanced countries” were condescending and inappropriate for a Church document.”
IC: “The timbre of the text seemed to many strongly characterized by a Western perspective (European and North American), especially in the description of the aspects and challenges posed by secularization and individualism that characterizes the consumer society.”
- Recognize inadequacy of current support.
AD: “We need to acknowledge and ask forgiveness for our own mistakes as pastors, especially those that have undermined family life.”
HA: “We have failed in “Christian education” and in the “education of faith” and one comes to marriage with many gaps.”
G: “We also propose, in these introductory thoughts, to thank spouses and families for their great service to each other, to our society and to our church. We also want to thank those especially who have stayed together in difficulties, and thereby have become a visible sign of God’s faithfulness.”
- Avoid stereotype of “ideal family.”
AB: “What emerged was far from a stereotype of an “ideal family,” but rather a collage of families different in their social, ethnic, and religious background. Amid many difficulties our families gave us the gift of love and the gift of faith; in our families we discovered a sense of self-worth and dedication.”
AC: “In speaking of “the family”, we were conscious of the danger of lapsing into an idealized, removed and disembodied sense of family, which may have its own beauty and internal coherence but which can end up inhabiting a somewhat bloodless world rather that the real world of families in all their variety and complexity.”
- [There is a great sense of frankness in the reports.]
AC: “The going was very slow indeed at times, and we are left wondering how on earth we will manage to make our way paragraph by paragraph through the entire document before the end of the Synod. [...] At times our work has seemed more muddled than methodical; but our hope is that focus, if not perfect clarity, will emerge as the Synod unfolds and we become more assured about both task and method.”
AD: “we found much of the [instrumentum laboris] text to be flawed or inadequate, especially in its theology, clarity, trust in the power of grace, its use of Scripture and its tendency to see the world through overwhelmingly Western eyes. Second, we felt limited in our ability to respond by not knowing clearly who the audience of the document is. In other words, are we writing to the Holy Father, to families of the Church, or to the world? [...] Members criticized many of the paragraphs in the first section. Some thought the presentation was chaotic, without inherent logic. Sentences seemed to be tossed together without any organic connection to one another. [...] The current material is obviously the work of a committee. Because of that, it lacks beauty, clarity and force.”
G: “The German translation followed the Italian text relatively closely, which, however, sometimes this makes the German text often difficult to understand. The reason for this are often the overlong sentences, requiring shorter sentences in German. Even the nested style is hard work. Here it would be better to look for shorter sentences in general and a better structuring of content. In the translation of the final texts there ought to be close attention paid to good style, pleasant readability and clear formulation. The translation should not be interlinear, but one that transmits meaning.”