"Further thoughts on the Synod" (Homiletic & Pastoral Review, July 2015)

Further thoughts on the Synod Homiletic & Pastoral Review, July 2015 (www.hprweb.com)

There was rejoicing at the first calling of the Synod because the family is in a bad way almost everywhere in the world. If there has been so much dissatisfaction with last year's - preliminary - Synod it is because the reports given and the impression emerging showed it as less centered on identifying and proposing pastoral remedies for whatever pathologies are undermining family life, but rather on some possible solutions for situations that result from these unresolved pathologies. So the focal concern of the Synodal Fathers seemed to be: 1) how to care more pastorally for the individual whose first marriage has broken down, so that he or she can more easily obtain a declaration of nullity of that marriage; and 2) in the case of a person who has already contracted a second union, how to make it possible (even if the first union has not been declared null) to receive Holy Communion and so enter again into a full sacramental life.
For the last seven or eight months discussion has remained centered on the pros and cons of these two issues. Re the first, some speeding up of the process is no doubt possible and would be an advance - always with the proviso that this is done without detriment to truth and justice. The second case has provoked intense theological debates; as indeed it should.
My present purpose is to deplore any continuing debate on these two issues, for this only serves to obscure the real danger (certainly in the eyes of the public) of the Synod suffering a total loss of identity; of not being a Synod about the family at all...
I pray that these two topics, if not taken off the agenda completely (it may be to late for that now), will be consigned by the participants to the very back of their minds; and if nevertheless they come up, recommendation is quickly made that they be the object of opportune study on some other occasion.
Let the Synod not belie its name. Let it not go down as a hoax or a farce...
Talk about the Family!
Please, Synodal Fathers, TALK ABOUT THE FAMILY! Talk clearly about the pathologies that threaten it: the destructive anti-marriage and anti-family propaganda permeating the media and the whole spirit of modern culture and so impacting on the minds of young couples, the mockery of chastity or fidelity, the presentation of promiscuity as the normal thing, the fear of commitment, the mindset that looks on children simply as a means to personal self-satisfaction.
This is not the occasion to talk to those whose marriage has already broken down and whose family is divided. Talk to those who are about to marry. Young people preparing for marriage are not looking forward to divorce or nullities. Tell them they can be faithful and happy by learning to love... Talk to them about love as generous giving. Show them the way to growth in love and generosity through reliance on God's grace.
Talk to those who are just married and have a family ideal in their hearts. Help them to understand the beauty of that ideal, to be proud of it, and to see its greatness as service to God and mankind. Talk also to those who have been married 10 or 12 years and are striving to help the children with whom God has blessed them to grow as convinced and mature Christians in an ever-more pagan society.
And Yes, along with the challenges and difficulties of married and family life, talk even more emphatically about its promises and rewards, and especially about the support married couples can and should draw from the sacrament they have received. Talk about the holiness of the mission entrusted to parents by God, about the human dignity of having a large family, about the challenge of creating a true family atmosphere where mutual care, understanding and forgiveness predominate...
Pastoral Preparation
Talk too of better pastoral preparation for young couples about to marry. Is there not a tendency to dwell too much on NFP in pre-marriage instruction? After all, to do so already implies a concession to the modern birth-control, anti-life mentality. Couples should certainly know about it, but know also the Church's teaching that serious reasons must exist to justify it (cf. CCC 2368; Compendium 497). Why? Because if there are no such grave reasons, its practice means a privation - depriving their own married love of its natural fruit and support; and equally depriving their existing children of the enrichment of another sibling. How we need to recall and understand those too often passed-over, though challenging and optimistic, words of John Paul II at the start of his pontificate: "it is certainly less serious [for couples] to deny their children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety" (Homily, Washington, D.C., October 7, 1979).
Fear of Commitment
Fear of commitment is the bane of our western culture. Nothing is worth committing myself to fully; binding choices are asking too much of human nature, renouncing one's freedom is not reasonable; and so neither the commitment of marriage nor of priesthood can be expected to be unconditional. I must always have a way out. It is my right!
Indeed, how impossible it is to make and live a definitive commitment to marriage without God's grace. But - how possible, with it! If pastors are not convinced of this realistic and optimistic truth and do not rest their marriage instruction and marriage counseling on it, what depth of realism and optimism can support their own definitive commitment to the priesthood itself?
Fear of coming out of self to a worthwhile commitment leaves a person more and more enclosed in the lonely self - that anticipation of hell, the eternal loneliness of those who never learned to love anything other than self.
A further point could be made which is intimately connected with the commitment of marriage and family. The question of vocations.
Where do vocations come from? From what atmosphere? From that of their parish? From the example of priests or religious they meet? Indeed. But above all from the atmosphere of their own family background. From the example of parents who have been faithful to each other and to their children. Can one expect many solid vocations to come from a calculating marriage, from an atmosphere where the parents are more concerned with their job or professional life or comfort than with being good parents?
There are exceptions... No doubt; but exceptions they remain. Do we expect to fill our seminaries or novitiates with exceptions? In one sense, yes. Yes, inasmuch as the normal thing in the Church today is that vocations come from exceptional families. The Letter to Diognetes gives ample testimony to the way the early Christians were known precisely for how they stood out from the pagans around them in their married and family life. May the Synod particularly remind married couples of how much their generous fidelity not only brings them a great reward in Heaven, but ensures the constant renewal of evangelization here on earth.