Wednesday 29 October 2014

Auntie's advice ....

"Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?"

How much consternation would be avoided if we were always to ask even the first of these questions before posting, linking or commenting ...?

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

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Thank you John ... UPDATED

... NOT.

Those who have labelled the Relatio post disceptationem (the French translation is here, and it is interesting to note the difference of nuance at points between the French and the English - between, for example, the philosophical implications of the term "vie affective" in French and their absence from the generally used English term "emotional life"; or between the French "la prise en compte" and the English "accepting the reality" in reference to civil marriages and cohabitation in n.22) a "betrayal" and argued that Catholics are "morally obliged to oppose the course being taken within the synod" .....

... have made it impossible to argue in the news media today that those pro-gay groups delighting in a "breakthrough" are in fact seriously mis-representing the content of the Relatio.

I think, for example, that it is to mis-represent the Relatio if one does not say that the recognition of the "seeds" of the truth about marriage that exist in civil marriages, cohabitation and in same-sex relations are to be seen in an orientation towards the fullness of the beauty of marriage that are referred to by the (unfortunate, because it suggests unreachable, when the context does not mean that) word "ideal", and that those seeds are very specifically defined in the Relatio. The "seeds" are recognised only as the stepping stones that might be nurtured towards the full beauty .... there is no denying anything of the "moral problems" that the Church sees in these situations, and indeed, in reference to cohabitation that has no direction towards marriage, there is an explicit indication that this does not represent a "seed" that can be nurtured.

Something of this is expressed in the Catholic Herald comment: The synod has a long way to go before it truly realises Francis’s vision.

The news item about the Relatio on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales: Second phase of Family Synod discussions to take place in Vatican from 4-25 October 2015

UPDATED: It is instructive to read the account of Debate of the Synod Fathers following the post-discussion Report, and to note the Declaration of the director of the Holy See Press Office on behalf of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Film Review: Ida

Zero and I went to see Ida a couple of weeks ago; I have not found the time to post a review, and this is not going to be the review that I would really like to post. I might update it when I find the time.

The film distributors site devoted to Ida is here. You can download the press notes here, and it is of interest to scroll down and read the interviews with the director and lead actress as they shed an interesting light on the making of the film and the real life characters who lie behind the screenplay's characters.

Stephen Wang has posted a review that captures something of the beauty of the film: Ida: beauty in black and white. I, too, was reminded somewhat of Tarkovsky, but perhaps more deeply than Fr Stephen. The more one understands the details of Polish history of both the wartime and Communist eras the more one can enter into the real depth of this film. It is a Polish film about the Poland of its times - and much as Tarkovsky portrays something of the Russian soul in his film making, so does Ida portray something of the (divided) soul of Poland in the 1960's. The figure of Wanda, a prosecutor for the Communist authorities, is a challenging figure to Poland today - and her nicely appointed flat would only have been accessible to Communist Party apparatchniks (to use the language of those times). The portrayal of her flat is an icon of a whole era in recent Polish history - but it is an icon that will only be read by those who know something of that history. When I discussed this aspect of Ida with my Polish neighbours, they spoke of there only being fruit available at Christmas time, and of family members taking it in shifts to queue for days to buy white goods. Similarly, the dark secret of the farming family - and, indeed, it was a secret that Wanda knew of and had hidden to protect her own career - is challenging to Poland today, though my knowledge of Polish history struggles to understand how widespread the events portrayed really were.

The film, for me, also represented in part a dialogue between a Poland that has a profoundly religious (Roman Catholic) culture, represented by the figure of Anna/Ida herself, and a Poland that almost literally, because of Communist propaganda, had no knowledge of that culture whatsoever. Wanda's total indifference to Ida's religious practice - "...your Jesus..." manifested the latter part of this dialogue. The dialogue comes to its zenith in the sequence during which Ida for 24 hours indulges the lifestyle previously lived by Wanda, drinking, smoking and sleeping with the jazz musician. As Fr Stephen points out, it is the words "..and what then...", repeated several times by Ida in response to the description of the life that she might have with her musician as she lies beside him in bed, that form the heart of the films ending. It is the contrast between the implications of these words and Wanda's suicide that represent the ending towards which the film moves.

And as Fr Stephen points out, the black and white cinematography, and the play of light and shadow that is so distinctive in character from that which would occur in colour, are stunning.

Other reviews: at Thinking Faith - which largely, in my view, misses the depth and point of the film, despite appearing a quite sophisticated review. At the SIGNIS website, which notes the award of the Ecumenical prize at the 2013 Warsaw film festival.

Ida was first shown in London in 2013, at the London Film Festival, where it was awarded the prize for best film.

Like Fr Stephen, I think it is a must see.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Further Synod Comment

Once again, it is a contribution from lay auditors that attracts my attention. It is a clear call for the effective pastoral teaching of the doctrine on birth control contained in Humanae Vitae - and yet it contains a form of language that proposes a positive synthesis of the part played by sexuality in married life. The original text is here, in Portuguese; and there is an English translation at Zenit. I quote the end below, but the richness of this testimony is really contained in its earlier paragraphs. As I usually suggest in these circumstances .... do read the whole.
Holy Father, Synoodal Fathers, ladies and gentlemen, if at least married couples found light and support with the clergy it would already be a great encouragement! Many times contradictory advice aggravates their confusion. We ask, the Magisterium to give the Fathers and faithful the great lines of a pastoral pedagogy, which helps to adopt and observe the principles agreed by Humanae Vitae.13
Necessary and urgent is the pronouncement of an easy and safe orientation, which responds to the needs of the present-day world, without wounding what is essential of Catholic morality, which must be amply diffused.
We end by reiterating our total and unconditional fidelity to Jesus Christ, through the Holy Father and the Church.
Fr Hugh has made some observations on the way in which the proceedings of the Synod are being communicated - or in reality, largely not communicated - to the wider world. Like others, including myself as the days of the Synod go by, he shares the view that the daily briefings provided by the Vatican press office are proving less than helpful. Fr Hugh also offers a critical analysis of a post by Austen Ivereigh at Catholic Voices Comment . I would share his analysis - I do not think Austen Ivereigh's posts are providing an accurate or useful communication of the events of the Synod. Fr Hugh's comments are in a post entitled: Synodalia: Losing Perspective. I have already posted on an earlier post by Austen Ivereigh here.

I think I noticed in an earlier testimony from lay auditors an observation that the couple, who worked in a marriage related ministry, knew many re-married couples who had left the Catholic Church to join other Christian affiliations that were more accommodating of their for-the-Catholic-Church irregular situations. Many other Catholics must simply cease to practice any Christian life in this kind of situation. This clearly is a pastoral challenge within the range of the title of the current Synod. Two thoughts come to my mind. The first is that, whilst there may be re-married couples who do leave the Church in these circumstances, there are also other couples, perhaps few in number or perhaps not,  who continue to live their Catholic faith, going to Mass but not receiving the Eucharist. Any kind of reversal of practice in this regard would really let down these latter couples, couples who may have lived as faithfully as they can in their life situations and experienced some anguish in doing so. The second is to reflect on Pope Paul VI's phrase, I think in Evangelii Nuntiandi, that what the Church needs more today is witnesses rather than teachers. In the context of re-married Catholics, the witnesses are those who continue to practice the Catholic faith but who abide by the Church's discipline with regard to receiving the Eucharist - even if the witnesses may be few in number and unheard in the media.

Or even more so, the witnesses are those Catholics who are divorced civilly or separated from spouses but have not re-married.

H/T to Fr Hugh for drawing my attention to the article by Louise Mensch in the Spectator: Louise Mensch: I'm a divorced Catholic. And I'm sure it would be a mortal sin for me to take Communion. Again, do read the whole as it is a moving testimony to Catholic belief with regard to marriage and with regard to the Eucharist. It might also be interesting to read Louise Mensch's account of her own situation alongside my recent observations on the Sign of Peace.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

The lay auditors and the Synod: personal reflections

Like Elizabeth Scalia (read her post, and explore the links therein), I think that the contributions being made by the lay auditors at the Synod are of great interest.

I think what must be said first is that the contributions of the lay auditors have been totally faithful to Catholic teaching - there has been no expression of dissent. To suggest otherwise is to seriously misrepresent what is being said.

I link to the texts of four testimonies as published in the Vatican Press Office's daily bulletin: here, here, here and here.

Like one of these couples, I too have reflected on what exactly it was that my parents did that ensured that I and my brother and sister continued to live the Catholic faith when we left home. I have never been able to put my finger on any one strategy or programme that they undertook. One aspect, certainly, is that we left home with the idea of Sunday Mass as being just second nature. It certainly never occurred to me that it was something I should drop. I also remember my mother being somewhat annoyed when a parish priest thanked her for getting my brother and I out to serve Mass .... she did nothing of the sort as we headed off early to do so of our own initiative. With hindsight, what perhaps says more than anything else was the gift mother bought each of us just as the first of us was about the fly the nest - a statue of Our Lady of the Wayside. I can recall her saying how much trouble it had taken to find an attractive image, one that had a genuine beauty rather than the saccharine that can be found in some images of the Virgin Mary. And I only learnt years afterwards that it was my father's idea to use some money given to my parents for a family visit to Lourdes, again just before we started leaving home. (I now suspect that my father took part in one of the earliest, if not the first, International Military Pilgrimages to Lourdes.)

I also found interesting the observation of the couple with regard to a family welcoming a same sex couple at a family celebration. The lay faithful - and therefore families - live in the space between the Church, seen institutionally, and the world; or perhaps better, the live both in the Church and in the World. Is it for the parish, as institution, to welcome a same sex couple in this way? Or is it for families, as the parish lived in the world, to do so? It strikes me that the evangelising presence in charity, of which this is an example, pertains particularly to the mission of lay people who can undertake it with less risk of being seen to compromise Catholic teaching as a result. If we consider the situation of family members who marry outside of the Church in the same kind of way, then this experience of welcoming in charity must be the experience of many other families too.

I can also recognise the value in seeing marriage as a vocational choice, not just a social convention. Whilst I think the recent recovery, certainly in the UK, of the sense of the vocations to priesthood and religious life as having in a certain sense a "greater excellence" is a good development, nevertheless it is necessary to see marriage as a vocational choice too. For that reason it should be proposed to young people alongside those other vocations, precisely as a vocational choice. Its paradigm would not be that of the proposal by the man and the acceptance by the woman; rather it would be the shared discernment of a retreat.

I look forward to reading more testimonies from the lay auditors.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Synod: Does Austen misrepresent?

I have not shared the criticism that others have at times offered of Austen Ivereigh of Catholic Voices.

I do, however, feel that his second post at Catholic Voices Comment From the synod (2): Erdö speech seeks to frame the debate misrepresents two aspects of the Extraordinary Synod.
Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, synods were conceived more as talking shops than deliberative bodies, intended to reaffirm existing doctrine and practice while bonding bishops to Rome and to (each) other. Attempts at debate were stifled, and displays of disagreement frowned on.
This is certainly grossly unfair towards Benedict XVI, who himself introduced changes to the way in which the Synod of Bishops worked, changes which laid the ground for what Pope Francis has now done in this regard. I recall, for example, Pope Benedict attending the meetings of the Synod on the Eucharist much as he might have attended many a conference in his previous role as an academic, even apologising to his fellow participants for missing one session as he needed to visit the dentist!. He also introduced a period of "free speeches" at the end of each day, during which Bishops could put down their names to share their thoughts with the whole body of the Synod. Summaries of these contributions were then published each day in the bulletin of the Synod. I think it is also fair to say that Pope Benedict's Apostolic Exhortation after the Synod on the Eucharist reflected much more the contributions made during the Synod than perhaps the Exhortations of Pope John Paul II, which had the form of a synthetic presentation of teaching.

It should also be pointed out that the nature of the Synod of Bishops was not "conceived" by either John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Its nature goes back to Pope Paul VI; and the process of preparing and circulating a Lineamenta ahead of a meeting of the Synod is not a novelty of Pope Francis.
In the afternoon, the synod heard from an Australian married couple who criticized church documents as complex and abstract.
This last sentence of Austen's post gives an impression that this couple "criticised" the Church's teaching for its complexity and abstractness. The full text of the couple's testimony is here (scroll down to find it, in English). What they actually said was:
Occasionally we looked at Church documents but they seemed to be from another planet with difficult language and not terribly relevant to our own experiences.
A footnote to this part of their testimony cited an example of re-writing the Pontifical Council for the Family's Charter of the Rights of the  Family in terms common to secular society in order to make it pertinent to that society. Later on in the testimony, there is a not dissimilar suggestion with regard to the teaching of Humanae Vitae. It is totally out of the context of the full testimony to give the impression that they are a couple critical of Church teaching. To get the full intent of this testimony, it is important to read the whole.

If I had been going to take one paragraph from their testimony to post, it would not have been the one Austen chose, but this one, from the end of the testimony:
....we resonate with the suggestion of one of our daughters regarding the development of what she calls a nuptial paradigm for Christian spirituality, one that applies to all people, whether single, celibate or married but which would make matrimony the starting point for understanding mission. It would have a solid biblical and anthropological basis and would highlight the vocational instinct for generativity and intimacy experienced by each person. It would remind us that each of us is created for relationship and that baptism in Christ means belonging to his Body, leading us towards an eternity with God who is a Trinitarian communion of love.

Monday 6 October 2014

Prayer Vigil at start of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

These vigils of prayer in St Peter's Square, taking place on different occasions, have become a significant symbol in the life of the Church over recent decades. Their archetypes are perhaps the encounters with the ecclesial movements on the eve of Pentecost; but, Pope Francis has brought to light a particular character of these vigils. The character is the character of a response on the part of the faithful to an invitation from the Holy Father, particularly clear in his invitation to a vigil for peace. This has been the nature of these gatherings under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but it is more apparently so with Pope Francis.

The vigil on Saturday evening - reported below - is a very tangible moment of ecclesial witness to the truth about the family. It should undoubtedly been seen as a part of the events of the Synod.

Pope leads prayer vigil ahead of Synod

Pope Francis’ Family Synod Forgoes Flash for Spiritual Depth

H/T to Aunty Joanna

Sunday 5 October 2014

The Extraordinary Synod as witness to the Family

Hans Urs von Balthasar frames his book The Moment of Christian Witness (original German title Cordula oder der Ernstfall) with two striking motifs. A key principle underlying the book is that the Christian life experience contains that decisive moment of Christian witness, manifested in the literal blood-martyrdom of those killed for their belief in Christ, or manifested in decisive openness to the possibility of such a witness by those who are not called to its literal fulfilment. In the Preface to his book, von Balthasar contrasts the response of the faithful Christian in the figure of Georges Bernanos with that of the Christian whose liberal thinking has robbed him of any real Christian commitment:
If you say to Georges Bernanos, "Come along with me. It's the Ernstfall - the crucial moment in Christian experience", the old grumbler will get up out of his armchair without so much as raising an eyebrow and follow you like a lamb. But if you go to Reinhold Schneider, the author of Winter in Vienna, and say the same thing to him, there is no telling what might happen. Whether you would finally manage to get any response at all from those who have been "demythologised" and converted to the world, I do not know. They have already explained everything away and are left with a merely symbolic belief in a message that they understand only by analogy. For them, both the belief and the message are worth dying for only by analogy, just as they consider Christianity worth living for only by analogy to something else.
The motif that closes the book is that of Cordula, whose name features in the German title of the book:
When the Huns caught sight of the young girls they fell upon them with savage howls, like wolves among sheep, working havoc among them and destroying them all.
But there was one girl, called Cordula, who out of fear hid herself the whole night long in a ship. The following morning, however, she offered herself up to the fury of the Huns, and thus received the crown of martyrdom. Afterward, her feast day was not celebrated because she had not suffered together with the others. A long time afterward, therefore, she appeared in a vision to a woman hermit and asked for her death to be commemorated on the day after the feast of the eleven thousand virgins. 
The Legend of the Eleven Thousand Virgins
[The historical accuracy of this legend of eleven thousand virgins martyred in Cologne in the fourth century is pretty much rejected. See St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins at New Advent.]

It is difficult to read Simon Caldwell's report Iraqi Christian: ‘ISIS terrorist held a sword to my throat but I refused to convert’ without being reminded of the story of Cordula, and without also asking ourselves whether, in the comfort of our developed nations, we would get out of our armchairs like Georges Bernanos if we faced a similar call to witness to Christian belief.

Does not, in a very different way, the Extraordinary Synod (and the Ordinary Synod that will follow) represent a "decisive moment" that calls the Church to witness to the beauty of God's plan for family life even to the point of derision and marginalisation? Witness in this sense relates to the teaching of the Bishops gathered in Synod; but it also relates to the living out of that teaching by Christian families in their own individual life situations. The witness may be imperfect - but at the "decisive moment", will we get out of our armchairs like Bernanos or hesitate like Schneider?