Well, it has certainly been an interesting few days as concerns the Bishop’s Synod for the Family, which — depending on who you talk to and/or read — is either descending into an irredeemable clusterfark of unprecedented proportions, or is nothing at all as it’s being described, or it is doomed to culminate in the collapse of the Catholic church (yes, that church, founded by Christ Jesus, over which he promised that “the gates of hell will not prevail”) or everything is going rather swimmingly, except for a few minority naysayers who like to kick the pillars to see how sound is the church (yes, that church, the one that has never done anything quickly, easily or without a bit of drama, caprice, resistance, and intrigue, because humans — who have a taste for high drama, higher caprice, morbid resistance and extravagant intrigue — have been put in charge of running it.)
Here are the facts as they are generally known, offered without hyperventilation, hand-wringing or glad-handing, or — truth be told — much pleasure.
FACT: Last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops was meant to celebrate the family as modeled by both the Holy Family and the Church itself, and to explore how to best welcome, catechize, minister-to and pastor family units that either do not fit traditional definitions of what it means to be a family, or have been fractured, re-blended and reconfigured to such an alarming extent that relativism has come to play an enormous role in how families are understood, or reinvented, in the West.
FACT: The bishops spent most of their time talking about the reception of Holy Communion for Catholics in “irregular” marriages.
FACT: Some of the family-types in need of better catechesis, more effective ministry and pastoral care included then, and still do include, the following:
- Faithful intact families sincerely attempting to live in conformity to church teachings as regards openness to life, when past support-systems (i.e., grandparents, aunts and uncles living nearby) are no longer reliably in place, and tired, economically struggling young couples are welcoming five children in nine years.
- Faithful intact families facing economic difficulties, or severe physical and mental health issues, or struggling with addictions to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or rage.
- Faithful intact families in which adult children — and sometimes grandchildren — have returned home due to economic straits, while senior citizen parents are simultaneously becoming dependent as they age.
- Faithful fractured families who are dealing with some-or-all of the above, plus the added dynamics of divorce, shared custody, income inequality, loneliness, dating, and — sometimes — annulment pursuits.
- Faithful single-parent families — often struggling economically — dealing with some or all of the above, and trying to raise Catholic children while feeling invisible, ill-regarded and unimportant enough to be given only perfunctory attention last year.
- Faithful families trying to figure out how to remain true to the Church and true to the love for their family members who are same-sex attracted.
- Faithful families who have no idea that their same-sex attracted family members are welcome within the church, and are halfway out the door because they love their children.
- Faithful families whose children are in same-sex relationships, and are feeling emotionally and spiritually pulled.
- Faithful families who are hoping to bring into the church those grandchildren who are being born into these same-sex relationships.
- Faithful families who have divorced and seem not to understand that they are still permitted to receive Holy Communion, unless they remarry without first pursuing an annulment through the church.
- Faithful families who are afraid to seek an annulment because they believe it will render their children “illegitimate”.
- Faithful families who have entered into a civil re-marriage because they were either afraid to seek an annulment due to an unpredictable, emotionally or physically violent spouse, or because they assumed an annulment would be denied, or because they could not afford to instigate an annulment, or because they simply have no idea how a sacramental marriage is different from a civil marriage, or why it matters.
FACT: That’s an awful lot of family-types, and difficult family dynamics, comprising the reality of family life in the 21st century.
FACT: That’s a harrowing list of people being under-served, and wandering about in serious pain and confusion because the pastors are distracted and delayed.
FACT: That’s an awful lot of people wounded and in need of serious catechesis, serious ministry, serious pastoral care, serious welcome and treatment .
FACT: Given how comprehensive and daunting is the challenge before them, it is almost understandable that the Synod Fathers would concentrate on two issues that might seem to be the most expedient:
- The divorced and civilly-remarried, un-annulled — to whom, some synod fathers seem to feel, the healing and clarifying medicine of annulment need not even be offered because doing so would (weirdly, it must be said) somehow lack mercy, which can only be demonstrated by offering Holy Communion to everyone, while playing games with words like “doctrine” and “discipline”.
- The same-sex attracted, who have — admittedly — not been made to feel particularly welcome to our hospital.
FACT: Allowing the reception of Holy Communion among those “irregularly married” while neglecting to discuss annulment as real and viable medicine for divorced couples sets the precedent necessary to permit virtually anyone — sacramentally married or only civilly — to receive Holy Communion, and that’s pretty much what all of this sound and fury is about, but no one will admit it.
FACT: These two matters are sucking up all of the oxygen at the synod, as shepherds dally or dance around each other, sign or do not sign letters whose content is affirmed and then denied, and otherwise waste valuable time not discussing an awful lot of wounded sheep.
FACT: The rest of the sheep are simply expected to behave while the shepherds snipe at each other.
FACT: They’re going to lose more sheep if they don’t get serious about discussing and teaching real doctrine, real discipline, real catechesis, real ministry, real pastoral solutions — and offering proven spiritual medicine, rather than untested alternative treatments.
FACT: One person needs to stand up at this synod, knock a few heads together — in the most Christ-like manner possible — and get this group focused and on-track, because the sheep deserve it.
That’s really all we need to know about this Bishop’s Synod for the Family, in the Year of Our Lord, 2015. Pray for them. Now, we can stop bellyaching; stop caterwauling; stop predicting doom; stop calling people names because we don’t think they’re merciful enough; stop calling people names because they seem “too” merciful. Stop acting like Jesus didn’t mean it when he said that he would be with us until the end of the world; stop pretending that one’s personal and excessive fretting is necessary in order to “save” the Church, when in truth fretting and spleen-venting are largely pointless and self-gratifying.
Just pray for them; pray for the shepherds; pray for the bishops; pray for the men caught in a whirlwind, today especially, on this Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which celebrates a day when the leaves and branches of a tree were stirred, and miracles occurred.