St Gregory Nazianzus wrote, “If I ought to write the truth, I am of the mind that I ought to flee all meetings of bishops, because I have never seen any happy or satisfactory outcome to any council, nor one that has deterred evils more than it has occasioned their acceptance and growth.” As a married man, I found little of inspiration when looking at stories and reports of the 2015 Synod on the Family.
Ronald Knox advised, “He who travels in the barque of St Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room.” Some Church leaders have called for changes in pastoral practice for communion for the divorced and remarried. The satirical website, Eye of the Tiber, suggested that the Synod on the Family would focus on learning some of the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine. Edward Pentin’s book, the Rigging of a Vatican Synod, describes manipulations that happened in preparation and organisation of the 2014 synod.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane provided some stark and honest accounts of the synod. He predicted, “There’s likely to be a new creativity and commitment in the way we accompany married couples and families in all their diversity and at every step of the journey. There will also be an attempt to forge a new language – less negative, more in touch with reality, more comprehensible. In part, this will mean a more Biblical language.”
Today, many flourishing Catholic pastoral initiatives help people to find God in the midst and context of family life. The whole point of Christianity is to have a personal and real relationship with God. The meaning and purpose of the Church is to point to Jesus Christ because he is our goal, destiny and desire. In my opinion, the synod did not sufficiently mention many of the wonderful programmes that exist in the Catholic Church – helping struggling marriages, helping women in crisis pregnancies, those living an authentic Catholic lifestyle while struggling with same sex attraction, and people finding forgiveness and reconciliation after an abortion. These programmes are where God is at work, transforming people’s lives on the local level.
The institution of marriage is in crisis in Western culture. Contraception, pornography, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and sexual abuse have devastated millions of marriages to the extent that in some countries, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. The flourishing of grassroots authentic family life on the local level is perhaps one of the best responses to such a crisis, rather than changing Church teaching. Above all, I want my family to be a place of joy.
John Paul II wrote a vast array of incredible reflections on marriage and family life. As a celibate man, he reflected deeply about the authentic reality of marriage in his book, “Love and responsibility.” His writings called “Theology of the body” will be remembered by the Church for centuries. I recommend anyone to devour his teachings to learn and discover the beauty and riches of how the Church can lead people to a deeper and more meaningful encounter with Christ through marriage and the family. Our life is meant to be a gift to others. In marriage, self-giving becomes instinctive.
The upcoming Holy Year of Mercy is a wonderful opportunity for Catholics to proclaim the incredible and amazing ways in which God is present in our world today. Let’s pray that many respond to that call, and that many people personally experience God’s grace, mercy and presence.