Wednesday, November 19, 2014
A Synod for this?
November 19, 2014
A month ago the first phase of the Catholic Synod on the Family ended, which opened a year of ecclesial reflection until October 2015. Then the General Synod itself takes place. So we are still in synod, a Greek word meaning "journey together." That is being Church -- being companions in the journey, following Jesus together and freely. That is life -- a shared journey.
"Let everyone speak freely, and listen with humility," Pope Francis said on the eve of the opening. So be it. That's how I want to do it since what's true for the bishops must be true for all of us who are Church, traveling companions.
There were 253 participants, mostly bishops, coming from all over the world, staying in Rome for more than two weeks. Was it necessary? Weren't e-mail, videoconferencing, or online meetings enough? So many celibate bishops talking about the family, holding forth on issues that the vast majority of people, including long-time Catholics and priests, had resolved long ago ... Was it worth it?
In no way would I say that families are a minor matter. They engender and shape us. It would be worth gathering at the Vatican not just 200 bishops but thousands of men and women from every people and culture and spending whatever it takes to remedy the wounds that afflict them: unemployment and poverty, lack of housing, violence and gender inequality, fear of the future, the failure of love...
But those weren't the subjects that mattered most to the synod fathers. One barely heard voices demanding serious ecclesial reflection on the profound cultural changes that are affecting the traditional family structures. No critical note on the issue of "gender", that is, the social construction of roles of men and women. No allusion to the decoupling of sex and procreation, a new and momentous event in the history of mankind. No reference to the serious demographic problem and, yes, hard damning judgments of the "anti-birth mentality." No hint of recognition of the holiness and sacramental value of homosexual love.
No hint of a possible rethinking of the traditional doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. No suggestion of the need to revise the doctrine of Paul VI's Humanae Vitae (1968), which prohibits under mortal sin any birth control measure or method other than sexual abstinence (they condemn anything that's not "natural", but take "unnatural" pills for the flu or cholesterol). And no trace of self-criticism at all.
Nevertheless, many have hailed this first synodical phase and the document that emanated from it as the prelude to a spring explosion, as the unstoppable beginning of deep doctrinal transformation. Let's hope it is, and that I'm wrong, and that I be given the grace to see it! But today I don't see it.
I do expect, though, that after the General Synod next year, Pope Francis will take three timid steps, namely: 1) An invitation to receive homosexuals with mercy (as if they were sick or sinners), 2) The possibility that some divorced people with new partners might take communion on the condition -- a humiliating condition -- that they confess their guilt for their marital failure and commit to not re-offending (Jesus didn't humiliate anyone this way), 3) Streamlining and cheapening the annulment process (a device not to recognize something very simple -- that wherever there is love there is a sacrament of God, and that there is only a sacrament while there is love). That will be all. Is so much baggage needed for this journey? Those are the bishops' problems, not the people's. The people are suffering for other reasons. Listen to the people, listen to life.
Life goes on striving in the little beating hearts of men and women today, believers or not. The Spirit and Love live in the marriages the bishops call "irregular", in the different types of families with their everyday joys and anxieties, in people who've failed in their love and remade their lives with another partner. They weren't, nor will they be, called to the Synod, but Life is guiding them.