Monday, 27 October 2014

Reacting to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. UPDATED

The title of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops was "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation". What I find striking about the Synod is that, whilst the notion of evangelisation was implicit behind the concerns of the Synod fathers, it seems to have received little explicit attention from them, or from those who have subsequently commented on the Synod.

Vatican II's decree Ad Gentes (nn.11-12), Pope Paul's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (nn.21-29) and, following them, the General Directory for Catechesis (n.48), identify different stages, or "moments", in evangelisation: (1) a presence in charity, or, if we use the title from Ad Gentes, (2) Christian witness; (3) explicit "primary proclamation" or as Ad Gentes terms it, preaching the Gospel; (4) initiation into the faith and Christian life, which Ad Gentes terms the assembling the people of God, and which would commonly be associated with catechetical activity; (5) ongoing nourishment of the gift of communion, or as Ad Gentes terms it, forming the Christian community; (6) the arousing of a missionary sense among the people of God (cf General Directory for Catechesis n.48).

The relatios of the recent Extraordinary Synod (the official English translation of the final relatio synodi is here) were structured in a different way than this, following an approach recognisable as the "see, judge, act" method associated historically with Cardinal Cardijn and the movement Young Christian Workers. But it is interesting to read the work of the recent Synod within the framework of the stages of evangelisation.

1. Presence in Charity
This moment can clearly be seen in three aspects of the Synod's work. The testimony at the beginning of one of the sessions during the first week of a married couple about how a Catholic family welcomed a same sex partner to their Christmas celebrations; the paragraph n.512 of the final relatio with regard to the divorced and remarried; and the paragraph n.55 with regard to the position of those in families who experience a same-sex attraction/homosexual orientation. Indeed, much of nn.41-59 of the final relatio can be understood as a call to implement a "presence in charity" towards those in the different situations considered. As the relatio says at one point, this exercise of charity implies no compromise in Catholic teaching. [As an aside, there is an aspect of the history of the mother-and-baby homes that is sometimes neglected in discussions today. It is the cultural context in which girls who were expecting babies but were not married came to be ostracised from their families. An appropriate "presence in charity" on the part of their families might have avoided much of the anguish that has followed.]

The primary agents of this "presence in charity" appear to me to be the lay faithful in their relations within their own immediate and extended families. The priest or bishop cannot replace the lay faithful in this, though they can help to create the ecclesial environment in which it occurs. I also suspect that many families will recognise that this is something they already undertake with regard to family members who might, for example, only enter into a civil marriage.

2. Christian witness
The decree Ad Gentes treats of the "presence in charity" and "Christian witness" under the same heading, whereas the later teaching of the Church separates theme into distinct moments. The famous phrase of Pope Paul VI, from Evangelii Nuntiandi, is of great importance here:
"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
The family that lives its witness to the beauty of the Gospel of marriage and the family will represent a visible sign to those who live around them, and not only within the Christian community. Similarly, those who remain faithful to the indissolubility of marriage even when separated or divorced are a sign to others around them. There is apparent in the work of the recent Synod a reaction to the concern for difficult family situations in wishing to see at the same time an offer of affirmation to those families who do remain faithful to the Church's teaching.

One might suggest that the custom among some of the new movements of offering testimonies during their celebrations might include testimonies of faithfulness to marriage.

3. Primary proclamation
This might also, in the context of the Extraordinary Synod, be described as teaching the beauty and splendour of God's plan for marriage, both in terms of original creation and in terms of the raising of marriage to a sacrament. The purpose of primary proclamation is to bring about a conversion of heart on the part of the listener, so that they will turn towards a life with Christ. It is an insight of the  "new evangelisation" to recognise that this moment of primary proclamation is not a once for all moment, as it might be for someone who previously did not believe in Christ. It is a moment that needs to be renewed among those who already follow Christ, and perhaps particularly so at our present time in the Church when her teaching is so little understood.

The idea of a primary proclamation of the Church's teaching on marriage is clearly represented in the second part of the final relatio nn.12-16. This duty of primary proclamation has a particular relevance to the charism of the priest and bishop, who are "teachers of the faith" to their people and to the world. Those who expect that the content of the primary proclamation is going to change are, I would suggest, indulging in wishful thinking of a very high order. This second section of the final relatio should make that very clear.

I have posted in the past on the idea that there is a "teaching moment" and a "pastoral moment" in the life of the Church. The two do not contradict each other, but are complementary. And, as far as the Gospel of marriage and the family is concerned, there is I think a complementarity between the office of the teacher, perhaps in the first instance a priest or bishop, and that of charity, exercised in the first instance by the lay faithful in their family circles. They each need to be exercised at the appropriate time, and with a respect for how a lay person might "speak" to an individual situation in a way that complements the way a priest might speak to that situation. Perhaps the challenge for primary proclamation of the Gospel of marriage and the family lies in recognising the appropriate moment and manner for that proclamation.

In the light of the (reported) extent to which Catholics fail to follow the Church's teaching on, for example, the openness to new life in marriage and divorce and remarriage, it seems to me that the "primary proclamation" of the Gospel of the family should be the most significant element of the discussions to take place in dioceses ahead of the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. The delineation of an appropriate content for this "primary proclamation" and a manner of exercising its distinctive character - what might be called a charism of teaching/evangelising - appears to me essential. Once a conversion of heart towards the Gospel of the family has taken place, then the embracing of what are seen as controverted teachings follows quite naturally.

4. Initiation into faith and Christian life.
In some ways this might well be the most important "teaching moment" in someone's Christian life. Clear catechetical teaching on marriage should follow the primary proclamation indicated above. If it does follow an effective primary proclamation, it will cease to be controversial and be experienced instead as a consequence following upon a conversion of heart. Again, the second part of the final relatio, perhaps particularly nn.17-20, gives indications for this. This is perhaps the point where the "teaching moment" should take clear precedence over a "pastoral moment", and precisely because it prepares the way for an effective "pastoral moment" in later circumstances. Once again, it is important to observe that those who are expecting a change in the content of catechesis on marriage and the family are sharing in wishful thinking of a high order.

5. On-going nourishment of the life of communion.
Under this heading we should perhaps recognise a need in the present time for a renewal of the "primary proclamation" as already suggested above. The passages of the relatio (nn.39-40) referring to preparing and accompanying couples as they marry and in the first years of their marriage relate to this stage of evangelisation.

What I have noticed, too, in the relatio are the references to the "vita affectiva" in the life of married persons. This might best be expressed in English as referring to a growth in the love between man and wife. It occurs in the paragraphs referring to openness to life (nn.57-59):
Occorre aiutare a vivere l'affettività, anche nel legame coniugale, come un cammino di maturazione, nella sempre più profonda accoglienza dell'altro e in una donazione sempre più piena. Va ribadita in tal senso la necessità di offrire cammini formativi che alimentino la vita coniugale e l'importanza di un laicato che offra un accompagnamento fatto di testimonianza viva. È di grande aiuto l’esempio di un amore fedele e profondo fatto di tenerezza, di rispetto, capace di crescere nel tempo e che nel suo concreto aprirsi alla generazione della vita fa l'esperienza di un mistero che ci trascende.[ "We need to help people to live their love, also in counjugal relations, as a journey of growth, in the always deeper welcome of the other and in a self-giving always more complete ..."]
The challenges in this regard are referred to in nn.9-10 of the relatio, and nn.18-20 indicate sources in the teaching of the Magisterium that develop this theme. I am also reminded of the "integration of the person in action" of Karol Wojtyla's The Acting Person. What is needed is the development of a practice of this growth in love in the life of people who are married, not just a teaching about it. This seems to me to be a key area for attention in the consideration of on going nourishment of the life of communion; it was reflected in the testimony at one of the Synod sessions given by a couple from the movement Retrouvaille.

6. A missionary sense among those who have been evangelised.
Families who have been the subject of an effective evangelisation in terms of the Gospel of the family are then able to become in their turn agents of that evangelisation, both to the world at large and to others in the Church. With a consciousness of the different moments in the evangelisation of the Gospel of the family they will be able to engage appropriately in each of those moments.

Concluding remarks.
If we read the events of the Extraordinary Synod, and in particular the relatio synodi, as I have suggested above, then I think we can respond to those events with the tranquillity of which Pope Francis spoke in his address to the Synod fathers during the final session. Indeed, I would suggest that you read the first paragraphs of that address, including its observations on the different temptations that we might face in reacting to the events of the Synod, as you finish reading this post.

I was also struck by the coincidence of two meditations in Magnificat, those for the 18th and 19th October, the concluding days of the Extraordinary Synod. The first was from Madeleine Delbrel, of whom I have more than once been reminded when Pope Francis talks of a "missionary conversion" on the part of the Church (cf also relatio synodi n.32):
What the missionary parish has to propose to those who are indifferent or who don't believe is precisely what makes it most alien to the world formed by them: it proposes its faith.
But in order for the faith to be heard, for it's message to be understood, those that proclaim it must be willing to be separated from the world by their faith; they must desire to be united to the people of this world as brothers and sisters of the same blood and the same destiny; they must be aliens because of their faith but not because of anything that they themselves add to it....
If God has given his law to men, it is only a sign of God if we observe it with a solemn fidelity and not haphazardly. At the same time, if we show ingratitude in the way we live, if grace is something we take to be our due, it will be impossible for us to understand what it means to be without faith, without reference to God in a world that finds it has thereby become formless, random and blind. We will speak "naturally" about the single reality that can genuinely transform life, and when one makes faith into something natural, it becomes for the nonbeliever something absurd.
The second meditation, for the day that Pope Paul VI was beatified, was from the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi:
It is appropriate first of all to emphasise the following point: for the Church, the first means of evangelisation is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time give to one's neighbour in limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses"...
What is the state of the Church ten years after the Council?...Is she firmly established in the midst of the world and yet free and independent enough to call for the world's attention? Does she testify to solidarity with people and at the same time to the divine Absolute? Is she more ardent in contemplation and adoration and more zealous in missionary, charitable, and liberating action? Is she ever more committed to the effort to search for the restoration of the complete unity of Christians, a unity that makes more effective the common witness, "so that the world may believe"? We are all responsible for the answers that could be given to these questions.

UPDATE: This post is also a useful reflection on some of the reaction to the Synod: The synod, catechetical practice, and the elephant in the room. Does the addressing of those elephants really belong in the stage of "primary proclamation" rather than "catechesis", remembering that these two moments do not always neatly follow each other in terms of time? And would a greater awareness by catechists of the stages in evangelisation help them to rise to the challenge described in Hannah's post?

H/T to Aunty

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