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November 3, 2013

The start of a "new and dynamic period" for Catholicism - 2014 special synod on pastoral care of marriage and family - Synod Secretariat's questions on divorced-remarried Catholics, same-sex unions - Serving children in all types of households

In this edition:
1. 2014 synod: Marriage and family.
2. Synod secretariat's questions.
3. The pope's pastoral approach to couples.
4. Marriage journey viewed sacramentally.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Not a harmless spirituality.
b) To hurt or learn from each other?
6. Starting a new period of Catholicism.
7. Bishops and laity.
8. Community of the Good Samaritan.

1. Synod: Pastoral Care of Marriage, Family

The pastoral care of married couples and the family is on the agenda for the October 2014 extraordinary assembly of the world Synod of Bishops. To gear up for this special gathering in Rome of some 150 church leaders and others, the Vatican Synod Secretariat this fall sent a set of questions on marriage and family to bishops around the world. Typically, bishops' conferences and diocesan bishops share the preparatory questions received from the Synod Secretariat with numerous Catholic organizations, scholars and others, inviting them to communicate their insights and concerns to those charged with developing the synod's working paper. That is why so many news stories around the end of October stated that the Vatican was asking lay Catholics worldwide for input on legalized same-sex marital unions, on reception of the sacraments by divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment of their first marriage, on cohabitation outside marriage and other social trends related to marriage and family life. What most news stories did not pick up on was the concern about the pastoral care of presently married couples and their families that the Synod Secretariat's preparatory document brought to the fore. This is not a "hot button" issue, so to speak. But it does involve ministries of central and continual concern in the ongoing life of parishes and dioceses. Thus, for example, the Synod Secretariat's list of questions asks, "What pastoral care has the church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?" It also asks how "awareness of the family as the 'domestic church'" might be promoted. The secretariat wants to know more about existing efforts on the local level in the church "to stimulate the task" of evangelizing couples and families. And the secretariat asks local church leaders and others:
  • "How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life's complexities and today's culture?"
  • "In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?"
  • "What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?"
There are many situations related to marriage and the family that require "the church's attention and pastoral care" today, the Synod Secretariat said. These situations may involve single-parent families or couples in "mixed or interreligious marriages," for example. The many concerns of the church related to marriage and the family, it said, range from "a culture of noncommitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary" to a "relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage." They range from "an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood" to "new interpretations of what is considered a human right." The 2014 extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops is charged with laying the groundwork - defining the "state of the question" -- for an ordinary assembly of the synod in 2015. The 2014 assembly is to devote attention to the "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization." Then, in 2015, the ordinary assembly of the synod, usually held every three years, will "seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family."

. . . 2. Further Questions for the Synod

"Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children," the Vatican Synod Secretariat says. The document the secretariat currently is distributing as part of preparations for the 2014 special assembly of the world Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family poses numerous questions in these areas. Overlooked by many is the unique attention it devotes to children in households of all kinds in today's world. It is widely expected that the upcoming synod will devote considerable attention to the pastoral care of divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment of their previous marriage. Here are just some of the secretariat's questions in this area:
  • "Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your [local] church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programs?"
  • "What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the church concerning the sacraments of the Eucharist and of reconciliation? . . . How many ask for these sacraments?"
  • "Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?"
I do not intend here to list all the questions raised in the Synod Secretariat's preparatory document. My intent is just to hint at some of the kinds of questions asked and how, in many cases, they relate to pastoral care. For example, inquiring about same-sex unions, the secretariat asks:
  • "Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?"
  • "What is the attitude of the local and particular churches toward both the state as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?"
  • "What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?"
  • "In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?"
More broadly, inquiring about couples in "irregular marriages" and their children, the secretariat asks, for example:
  • "What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases?"
  • "How do parents in these situations approach the church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?"
  • "How do the [local] churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?"

3. Pope's Pastoral Approach to Couples

It is important "to know how to forgive one another in families because we all make mistakes, all of us," Pope Francis said Oct. 26 in remarks to couples and families in St. Peter's Square. "It is important to have the courage to ask for forgiveness when we are at fault in the family," he said. For, "sometimes we do things which are not good and which harm others." Pope Francis spoke to participants in the international Pilgrimage of Families Oct. 26-27 in Rome. In his remarks the pope spoke frankly about the demands of family life, demonstrating his grasp of the realities - the ups and downs -- of life in a typical home. In precisely that context, he suggested, families can experience and benefit from the support of God. Families from around the world gathered Oct. 26 in Rome, on pilgrimage to St. Peter's Square and the tomb of St. Peter. The pilgrimage was among events planned in Rome for the current Year of Faith, which began Oct. 11, 2012, and will conclude Nov. 24. The essential role of love in marriage and family life was accented by the pope. "Certain silences are oppressive" in families - silences "between husbands and wives, between parents and children, among siblings," he observed. He said, "Without love, the burden becomes even heavier, intolerable." He commented that "work is tiring" and "looking for work is exhausting." But he said that "what is most burdensome in life is not this: What weighs more than all of these things is a lack of love. It weighs upon us never to receive a smile, not to be welcomed."

. . . 4. Marriage Journey Viewed Sacramentally

One point Pope Francis hoped to make in addressing participants in the international pilgrimage of families Oct. 26 was that the sacrament of marriage does not refer merely to a beautiful event or decoration in a couple's life at a particular moment. He said: "The sacraments are not decorations in life: What a beautiful marriage, what a beautiful ceremony, what a beautiful banquet. But that is not the sacrament of marriage. That is a decoration! Grace is not given to decorate life but rather to make us strong in life, giving us courage to go forward!" The pope observed that "those who celebrate the sacrament say, 'I promise to be true to you, in joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health; I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.'" However, he said, "at that moment the couple does not know what will happen or what joys and pains await them." Instead, at that moment the couple sets out "like Abraham, on a journey together. And that," Pope Francis exclaimed, "is what marriage is!" Marriage means "setting out and walking together, hand in hand, putting yourselves in the Lord's powerful hands. Hand in hand, always and for the rest of your lives." Pope Francis insisted that "Christian spouses are not naive; they know life's problems and temptations." He said, though, that they are unafraid, "not afraid to be responsible before God and before society. They do not run away, they do not hide, they do not shirk the mission of forming a family and bringing children into the world." However, "today, Father, it is difficult," the pope added immediately. He said: "Of course it is difficult! That is why we need the grace, the grace that comes from the sacrament!" Pope Francis said he has "felt the pain of families living in situations of poverty and war" and "listened to the young people who want to be married even though they face numerous difficulties." He wanted participants in the pilgrimage of families to ask themselves how it is possible in the family today "to live the joy which comes from faith." He asked them, "Is it possible to live this joy or is it not possible?"

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Beyond a Harmless Spirituality: "What is the truth to which the martyrs witness? [Archbishop Oscar] Romero's life was rooted in the Word of God, a word of friendship. It invites us to uncurl ourselves, to be liberated from self-obsession. It calls us to flourish and find happiness in a love that knows no bounds. Christianity is not a harmless spirituality: Light a candle, and see where you are on the Myers Briggs table. It is not a lifestyle accessory or a bit of social glue. It is the mad folly of being caught up in a love which is infinite. Or it is nothing." (From the Oct. 29 Archbishop Oscar Romero memorial lecture by Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe, given at Westminster Abbey in London. Father Radcliffe is a former master general of the Dominicans.) Hurting Each Other or Learning From Each Other: "We are the body of Christ, but we are a very human institution. People bring their personalities and ideologies, and we can often take very strong stands which divide us and hurt one another. . . . I know I have probably hurt people with the stands I have taken on certain issues, and I have also been hurt by people who have very publicly dismissed me and things I've had to say. . . . We're doing it in the name of the Lord. It doesn't make much sense, but that's part of who we are. . . . We have to have our own views, they should be strong, but other people have strong views, too, and we can learn from each other." (Canadian Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Manitoba, quoted in a Canadian Catholic News story by Deborah Gyapong after the Oct. 28 announcement of his retirement; he is 75.)

6. The Start of a New Period in Catholicism

It is not "naively optimistic" in his view "to say that we are in the beginning of a new and dynamic period in the history of Catholicism," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said in a speech Oct. 25 at the University of Dallas. The archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, addressed the annual Ministry Council co-sponsored by the university and the Texas dioceses of Dallas and Fort Worth. The speech by Cardinal Rodriguez undoubtedly would have been newsworthy under any circumstances. But a reason it captured the attention of so many close observers of the church at this time is that the cardinal chairs the Council of Cardinals named by Pope Francis to advise him on reforming the Roman Curia. Today, the cardinal said, "the church finds herself facing a demanding change, the most profound change in her history since primeval times." He explained that "from being a European church, more or less culturally uniform," the church now is on the way to becoming "a universal church, with multiple cultural roots and, in this sense, culturally polycentric." The church always ought to approach the world in a spirit of faith and "service to humanity," he said. He expressed concern that the church too often creates "the impression of having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue." The church should not approach the world with "authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism," he commented. Instead, the church needs always to be inspired by the message of Jesus. "After the papacy of Benedict XVI, a time that was virtuous and heroic, the person of Pope Francis has arrived," the cardinal noted. In the period ahead, he suggested, "the church will constitute a missionary movement for the conversion of culture, propitiating and multiplying signs of growth, of great vigor and hope." Vatican Council II, the cardinal said, was "the main event in the church in the 20th century. The council, in principle, spelled the end of "hostilities between the church and modernism," he observed. For, neither should the world be regarded as a realm of evil or sin, nor should the church be regarded as "the sole refuge of good and virtue." With a return "to a profoundly humane church," a new relationship with the world will be established, Cardinal Rodriguez said. The church could not have continued to approach the world as a "parallel" society pursuing an "autonomous course, strengthening her walls against the errors and the influence of the world," he stated. The church "has never been her own goal," said Cardinal Rodriguez. Rather, the church's mission "is to manifest the deeds of Jesus." For, salvation "comes from Jesus, not from the church. The church is mediation" and never has served "a different Lord." "Doctrinal argument is important," and there is "no doubt" about that, the cardinal remarked. Still, he said, what attracts people is "the humanity of Christians, those who live by the faith, who live in a human way, who irradiate the joy of living, the consistency in their behavior." The church, he said, "will convert the world not by argument but by example."

. . . 7. Bishops and Laity

The role of the laity in the church and the world is among topics under discussion by the Council of Cardinals that Pope Francis named to advise him, according to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. One point already discussed by the pope and his new council of eight cardinals, Father Lombardi said, involved ways to ensure that the laity's role "is more adequately and effectively recognized and followed in the governance of the church." In his Oct. 25 speech at the University of Dallas, Cardinal Rodriguez, who chairs the Council of Cardinals, examined the relationship of the hierarchy and the laity in the church today. "The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself," he said. Its purpose is understood "only in reference and subordination to the community." The hierarchy's purpose, he stressed, should be understood in reference to Jesus the Suffering Servant and not through reference to a "Pantocrator" who is the world's Lord and emperor. Cardinal Rodriguez commented that "to speak correctly, we should not speak of clergy and laity, but instead of community and ministry." For, the baptized people of the church also are called to serve in the common priesthood of the faithful. The cardinal did not deny the ordained priesthood's unique role. He thought, though, that "a hierarchic mind-set" would not prove helpful in attaining "the communion of the church" that is vital to acquiring credibility in society today. "Vatican II does not make the foundations of the church into a polarizing outline of two extremes, 'clergy-laity,' thus robbing the Christian assembly of their own protagonism, participation and responsibility," he said. Priests, he said, are essential ministers of the Word. They must communicate to everyone the life that "emanates from Christ." However, the cardinal added, "the field of the laity" also "offers plenty of spaces, alternatives and scenarios where" priests still do not make their presence felt "in an incisive, decisive and courageous manner."

. . . 8. Community of the Good Samaritan

The new evangelization calls for a new beginning in the church, Cardinal Rodriguez said. With the new evangelization, "we once more become the church as proclaimer, servant" and Good Samaritan. The cardinal said that Jesus' entire life was a priestly one "in the sense that he became a man, was poor, fought for justice, criticized the vices of power, identified himself with the most oppressed and defended them, treated women without discrimination, clashed with the ones who had a different image of God and of religion, and was forced by his own faithfulness to be prosecuted and to die." The "original priesthood of Jesus is the one that has to be continued in history, and it is the basis for understanding the presbyterium and, of course, common priesthood," the cardinal told his University of Dallas audience. The presbyterium "is a ministry and cannot be conceived apart from the common priesthood," he said. Insisting upon the primacy of those who are "last" in the world, Cardinal Rodriguez said that the church should proclaim, "as a criterion of sociopolitical organization and education," that all people "are brothers." He observed that if Jesus says the poor are blessed, it is because he "is assuring them that their situation is going to change." Consequently, the cardinal continued, a movement is necessary that can accomplish this goal and restore "dignity and hope" to those on society's margins. This involves the pursuit of justice in the world. Cardinal Rodriguez said that "justice opposes contempt, violence, deceit, slavery, death." Life will become more just, more human "to the extent that we eliminate those," he commented. "All religiousness is false" when we are not committed to "feeling as our own the pain of the oppressed, getting close to them and freeing them," Cardinal Rodriguez said. It is, he suggested, a matter of following the model of the Good Samaritan and acting out of love.