How’s the Family?
A week on Monday, on the 4th of October the Synod on the Family will commence. A year ago, the Extra-ordinary synod began a three fold process of discussion and discernment on the role and place of the family within the context of the mission of the Church. The process will conclude with the publication of a teaching document from Pope Francis pulling together the proposals which the Synod will bring forth. This teaching document will most likely be published within the duration of the Holy Year of Mercy. As part of the discernment process you may recall the Bishops of England and Wales released a questionnaire called The Call, the Mission and the Journey. This was a survey in six questions, that was sent out to all parishes in England and Wales. Last Tuesday responses to this survey were published during a press conference given by Cardinal Nichols. They make a challenging read.
One thing which becomes clearly apparent from the responses is the heartfelt desire for an honest appraisal of the reality of the difficulties which people face in striving to live out the call of the gospel in situations which don’t meet the ideals of the Church. This manifests in many ways be them relational, financial or social, and often the attitude of the Church to these very real issues is experienced as unloving, unforgiving and lacking in compassion. The consequences of this is that many simply find the Church unable or unwilling to acknowledge that “although people make mistakes they still need their Church community.”
In his press conference, the Cardinal reflected on the responses, dividing them between those which ” read the gospel through the eyes of the reality of our world, seeking a tendency that the gospel has to fit our experience” and those which conversely “read the reality of the world through the light of the gospel, in which our experience has to fit with the gospel.” Both of these tendencies share a desire to relate the one to the other, and the question then is whether we see the gospel as already present in people’s lives, or as something yet to be discovered, and here the work of the Synod and the minds of the bishops must be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Nichols said that he would take all these thoughts, questions and reflections with him to be placed before the Synod gathering. His final comments were on the topic of valid marriages which have failed, and how are they to be pastorally and compassionately dealt with. He spoke of the relationship between mercy and conversion. Mercy, he said, and here I paraphrase his words, is never a short cut to the compassion of God but rather a pathway to a process of conversion, drawing us towards being the person we should be. What is that pattern of conversion for people who have experienced failure in their marriage and have formed a new relationship with a loving and precious partner? If a valid marriage breaks down then Christ is still faithful to that marriage. What is the grace which remains in a person’s life after a broken yet valid marriage? Is it not the grace of conversion?
There is much to be done, but tat least he conversation has begun, and it must be a two way one . It is though to the gospel and to Jesus that we must always turn, to begin the conversation and to reflect and pray for the grace to discern the way forward. Our families are the building blocks of the Church, they are the place where we learn how to be Christian. They are the core of our communities, and we need always to look to nurture and support them in every way. Let us pray that this Synod is blessed with wisdom and understanding, mercy and compassion, guiding us all on the pathway of constant conversion.
Access the survey can be found at catholicnews.org.uk and follow the links to Family Synod