thoughts – take two

I’m very grateful for all the input I received in response to my request last week, whether it came through comments, emails, or personal conversations.  As I read over everyone’s thoughts, one overwhelming question came to me.  It’s one of those questions that has a pretty elusive answer (like when people ask me, “How do we get kids to keep coming to Church after Confirmation?”  Yeah, if I had that answer, I’d be rich. Somehow.), but I still think it’s worth asking.

Many of you responded with a desire for family life to be promoted and encouraged.  We are constantly inundated with the bad news about divorce or single parent families, and the culture is so obviously working against those families who are obeying the Church’s teaching. What can we do to promote and encourage the positive message that the Church has for family life and marriage?

When I was reading over the post-synod document (which is also serving as the guiding document for the upcoming synod), the bishops did exactly that.  They encouraged those families who are living Church teaching and they expressed “their gratitude, appreciation, and encouragement” to those who have responded to their vocations and the mission of the family, even when that has meant suffering.

But we all want something more, right?  So what is that?  The Church has been encouraging families for a while. Read Familiaris Consortio.  Is it because things like that don’t make the news?  “Pope Encourages Families” isn’t exactly the best headline if you want to sell papers.  Or is it because we aren’t seeing it translated into practical ways on the local level?

And here’s my other question… as much as we talk about the synod being positive about marriage, do we deep down want them to condemn things as well?  Maybe we would feel encouragement in our daily struggles to live the hardships of Catholic family life if there was a clearer expression that the other ways of living weren’t okay?

These are honest questions.  I’m personally tired of just receiving statements and documents and letters that no one reads and just get filed away on a website somewhere.  But can we really ask anything else of the Synod, other than a statement or document?  Again, that sounds like a rhetorical question, but it’s not. What do we want from this time?

It’s an understatement to say that family life is a mess right now.  Some other topics raised were single parent families, the need for better marriage prep, and a better understanding of the sacraments.  I agree with all of these, and I hope there are some practical, concrete changes to come out of the Synod.

I suppose it’s ultimately up to the Bishops to decide what exactly they can do.  But whenever I complain about changes not happening, I feel like I should be able to articulate what I even want.  And I can’t do that right now.

Your thoughts

Okay, peeps.  I know you’re out there, and I know you’re reading my blog. But I rarely get comments.  I don’t take it personally, although I do occasionally wonder why some blogs get oodles of comments and other blogs get none. Perhaps I need to blog about more controversial topics, like vaccines or something.  But I’m not that desperate for comments.

A few months ago, I blogged about the controversy surrounding the Synod on the family.  One thing that struck me (but not surprised me) was how the hot-button issues of communion for the remarried and homosexuality received all the attention, when there’s so much more we need to be discussing about the family in the world today.

Another thing I noticed, when speaking about the synod with people or reading articles about it online, was that we in the Church can get really focused on what we think is important and possibly miss some issues that people living the life think are important.  And I’m not talking about the old “what does a celibate man in Rome know about marriage…”, but rather about myself. As a person who works for the Church and thinks and speaks about the Church every day, I might have a completely different view of things from the average person sitting in the pew.  It’s the whole “inside baseball” problem.  When I get together with coworkers or people who work in other dioceses, we have a whole host of things we think are issues… but are they really?  And are we missing something because we’re so focused on the ad intra problems in the Church?

That being said, this is a honest question for my readers — and I know that you’re out there, even if you don’t comment!  What would you like to see come out of next year’s Synod?  (Remember, we’re doing this all over again next fall!)

What are some issues you would like to see discussed?  What are your thoughts about family life in the United States?  About family life in the Church in the United States? Is there something you think might be ignored because it’s not “hot-button” enough?  Or are there positive things you think aren’t celebrated enough?

I would honestly like to hear from you — as people in the pew … or as people who aren’t in the pew!  If there’s going to be honest and fruitful discussion happening, those of us who work for the Church need to hear what you all think.  After all, you are the Body of Christ.

So here’s my desperate plea… not just for comments, but for thoughts and feedback.  If you don’t want to comment publicly but have something to share, feel free to head over to the contact tab.


 Photo by Jimmy McIntyre

My thoughts on the Synod thus far

There has been much ink spilled — good and bad, astute and sloppy — on the Synod these days.  Part of me feels like we’re back in 1963 and relying on Xavier Rynne to tell us what the Church teaches. But I don’t remember 1963, so I can’t feel like that.  And with modern technology and the speed of communication, it’s Xavier Rynne on steroids.

I’ve spent some time over the past few days trying to read a variety of opinions from a variety of sources. I won’t share them all, but I’ll link to some of my favorites.  There are twenty more blog posts for every one of these I post. But no one can read everything.  Before I post links, I’ll tell you three things I know for sure about all of this, then I’ll add my opinion to the cacophony.  Here we go.

1. The Synod is not an official teaching body of the Church. It is a group of bishops coming together to discuss the issues that face the Church in society today.  No matter what some bishop says in a press conference or even whatever they might write in a document, they don’t have the power to change Church teaching.  Sorry.

2. This Synod is not going to produce any official document.  Even the document they’re going to publish at the end of this week is simply a working document to go into the Synod next year.  The Church is an ocean liner, not a speed boat.  Always has been.  Do you realize how long it took for us to put into words what we believe about the person of Christ?  Whatever the effect of this Synod, it isn’t going to happen overnight.

3. Everyone is going to ignore #1 and #2, and our dilemma as a Church is how to continue to function in 2014 like we did in the 15th century.  The Church has always refined Her teaching (not changed, but developed and figured out how to express the teaching of Christ adequately in limited human terms) through discussion and dispute.  It’s how we did it at Nicaea and it’s how we did it at Vatican II.  People argue.  People defend their beliefs.  People bring up points and get shot down. For Pete’s sake, St Thomas Aquinas argued with himself.  It all gets sorted out through the gift and protection of the Holy Spirit. That being said, in 2014, people don’t want to wait for the conclusion of arguments.  And in 2014, we have the ability to almost instantaneously hear every word of every argument.  I don’t think that’s a good thing.  But it looks like we have to figure out how to deal with 2014 the hard way.

My opinion (take it or leave it)… Full disclosure — my approach to some of the issues discussed by the Synod has changed in the past five years.  That may sound radical to some of you.  I don’t say my beliefs changed.  They haven’t.  I believe what the Church teaches in regards to marriage, sexuality, and family life. And I believe it with all my heart.  That being said, over the past six years I’ve worked with a lot of people.  I’ve encountered the human heart.  Fresh out of grad school, I was armed with the Catechism and the Summa and I was ready to beat Church teaching into every soul and mind.  Now I’m still armed with those treasures, but I’m ready to propose it.  Just as God does.  I’ve encountered a weak and frail humanity that needs love and care and healing.  It needs the Truth.  But it is too wounded to be beaten further.  It needs to be loved.

Does that mean we don’t preach the Truth?  No.  And one of the weaknesses of the relatio was its failure to preach the Truth and beauty of Church teaching with clarity.

Does that mean we change Church teaching to suit the needs of society?  No.  Church teaching is beautiful and wise and true.  We can’t change what Christ Himself taught.  As soon as we do, we cease to be the kingdom of heaven.

But does that mean we need to find ways to bring that Truth to the wounded people in our world?  To teach them in ways they can understand, that will not shut them down but open them up to the richness of the Word Incarnate- Who desires to love them in their brokeness?  Yes.

We are broken.  We are wounded.  All of us. And those who walk around and pretend like the human heart is understandable and that life is full of black and white situations are probably the most broken and wounded of all.

The only thing that will heal us is Truth. So how do we give that Truth?  How do we proclaim that Truth?  How do we live that Truth?

I have to admit, when I heard the Gospel yesterday, and heard the condemnation of the scribes by Jesus, I wondered how often I have been guilty of the same sin: “And he said, ‘Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.’”

All the times I have judged people- thought I knew their hearts, thought I knew the state of their souls, gossiped about their sins, judged their intentions, judged their desires and assumed the worst…  I have failed to love them in their brokenness, failed to help them carry their burdens. God, forgive me.

A quick link-up:

Reports of the Working Groups – if you read the relatio (and if you did, you’re probably in the 1%), you might want to read this — the feedback from the working groups about it.  This link wil take you directly to the three English groups and their thoughts

Having Patience for the Sausage-Making Synod – Father Barron is always a good read. Thank you for your measured response and sanity, Father.

The Great Catholic Cave-In that Wasn’t – George Weigel points out what we should all know by now – secular media usually gets it wrong

Synod report: Is there a seismic shift in Catholic approach to marriage? – Are we ignoring what Africa wants to share?

PewSpective: My Favorite Sins – a beautiful reflection from a lay woman about relatio and real, every day living

Synod of Bishops 2014: The Drama is Back – John Allen is my go-to, even though I don’t always agree with him.  but you shouldn’t just read people you always agree with…

Maronite Synod Delgate: Family Issues Facing Catholics are not all Universal – a good reminder that it’s not just all about the West

I’m sure there are several I missed — I read a lot yesterday. But there’s a start for you.