Thursday, 22 October 2015

My hopes for the synod

When the synod on "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world" was announced, it had my wholehearted support. As a result of poor catechises and a failure to challenge destructive social trends, the Catholic vision for family life is misunderstood by many Catholics, woefully misrepresented and choked by the vagaries of prevailing western culture. Catholic families (and families in general) now struggle for life in societies which assault and undermine them from every conceivable economic, moral and spiritual angle. 

As the synod nears its end and prepares to produce its final document, I hope for three things.

1. Reaffirmation of the beauty and necessity of the Christian understanding of marriage

The starting point for any discussion on marriage should be incredible dignity it affords to the human person. Marriage is fundamentally a reflection of the communion of the Trinity, the source of all goodness and beauty. Yes, we need to recognise that we live in a fallen world which has produced a staggering array of brokenness in our relationships but we should start with the glory and the promise of the original marriage, God, one in three. If we are to start with the brokenness, we face an insurmountable climb to the summit but if we begin instead with God's grace and vision for marriage, we can begin to understand that "all things are possible to God". We should not be afraid to proclaim the Catholic understanding of marriage; people will wrangle over words claiming offence at this term or that but if they are utterly opposed to the very concept of sacramental marriage, semantic gymnastics will not make them more disposed to accept it. We need to be bold - profess what we believe to be true and allow people to accept or reject it. 

2. Better catechises

The release of the answers to the Church wide survey in England and Wales in preparation for the Synod shows the startling depths of the problem of catechises in this country [1]. Though we all have some share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs, the buck stops with the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales who have utterly failed us. Nobody can love what they don't know and this is incredibly problematic as the sacrament of marriage is "an encounter with the risen Christ". If we do not understand the sacrament of marriage, how can we expect to help married couples love Christ?

A plan of action needs to be drawn up to catechise the entire country and the "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world" is the perfect place to start because it touches almost every aspect of Christian life. 

As a starter, perhaps every parish should have a prepared sermon on the first Sunday of each month on the theme of marriage, taking the Catechism as its template. The talk could be followed up by workshops and discussion groups with a special focus on the examples of the saints and how Church teaching is backed up by current research. The goal should be to help people understand and live Church teaching and to help them articulate our beliefs to others.

3. Better support

From my own experience, and from what I've been told by a few people I have left, the Catholic Church in the western world is rather poor at building living communities. This is perhaps even more detrimental to Faith for those who find themselves in difficult family situations. If the Church really is to be a source of mercy and grace for such people, our parishes need to take on some of their burdens. This could include practical things like childcare, clothing and furniture, opportunities for socialising and prayer groups which attempt to address the particular spiritual difficulties they encounter. The support structure of each parish should be geared towards strengthening those who attempt to live the Christian idea of marriage. It should also encourage those who want to move away from lifestyles at odds with that ideal in their efforts. 


Monday, 19 October 2015

A test of faith

I do not pretend to posses a heroic or saintly Faith but what little I do have has sustained me in my darkest hours. Despite my sinful inclinations, I have tried to make it the basis for my growth as a human being and it has been all things to me: an inspiration, a crutch, a source of strength and of weakness, a friend, a guide, something quite profound, something beautiful. Though I have often experienced a spiritual dryness, rather less dramatic dark nights of the soul, I have never suffered a sustained test of Faith. When I felt furthest away from God, I still knew He was there despite not being able to understand the reason for His distance. The papacy of Pope Francis however has presented me with something new - it has provoked the greatest crisis of Faith I have known.

Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies
I have written about my misgivings regarding Pope Francis (after an initial period of great hope) in a previous post. [1] Over the last year, those misgivings become serious doubts which have sadly been confirmed by the great debacle of the Synod on "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world". When the synod was first announced, I believed it would be a great opportunity to re-present the beautiful teaching of the Church on marriage and family life. Catechises in this area is sorely lacking and the consequences are self evident - society is built upon the bedrock of marriage and the family and it is beginning to crumble. I knew that some liberal minded priests, bishops and cardinals together with their lay supporters would attempt to use the synod to vocalise their dissent from Church teaching but nothing could have prepared me for the reality: they have centre stage and an ability to control proceedings. The pearls of church teaching are being substituted for swine fodder.

The synod has been a shambolic farce from the attempt to doctor the Relatio Synodi of the 2014 sessions to the gerrymandering of the committee which will produce the final report of 2015. There has been a complete lack of discipline amongst the attendees who have used the opportunity vent every kind of liberal spleen and hair brained scheme imaginable. It has shown the Church to be divided, disorganised and woefully lacking in understanding with regards to the modus operandi of modern media.

Why has all of this been a challenge to my Faith? One of the most beautiful things to me about Catholic teaching is its paradoxical simplicity and complexity. Each teaching is part of a wider web which gives it structure, meaning and purpose. If you destroy one thread, the whole is compromised. The threads put at risk by the outcome of this synod are the Church's teaching on the Eucharist and Marriage. The marriage union is a mystical symbol of the unity of the Trinity and the Eucharist is body of Christ; as such our very understanding of God is at stake. Even if no changes are promulgated by the synod, it has been made known that Pope Francis intends to commit to the Church to a process of synodisation which will give greater scope to local bishops' conference to determine their own practice. Faith is as Faith does - changing practice changes doctrine. What we are facing is a profoundly un-catholic and un-Catholic Church, no longer One, no longer Holy, no longer Apostolic.

Catholic teaching is presented as universal - it applies to all equally across time and space because its source is God who made the human heart to be restless until it rests in Him. The thought of being part of a Church which changes its teaching to match the prevailing social wind or allows for local variation in its application is anathema to me. Such Faith is pointless as it will necessarily pander to human weakness - its ultimate destination is idolatrous self-worship.

In previous years, safe in the pontificates of Saint Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI, I always believed that the institution of the Church was a mighty bullwark against those within the the fold who would seek to harm the bride of Christ with misguided teaching. To see them now, emboldened at the centre of the Church, to recognise the head of one's own bishops' conference among them and to believe that the Pope favours a course which will bring ruin to something I have come to love is a terribly sobering experience.

In all this, I can perhaps perceive that I am being taught a lesson. Maybe, I have placed too much trust in the personality of the Pope rather than the promise of Christ. It is after all Christ that I follow, not man. It was Jesus who promised that "the gates of hell should not prevail" against his Church, not Peter. In feeling a little helpless amidst the events at the Vatican, I have turned to prayer and that is no bad thing. For man, a positive outcome may be impossible but not to God. For God, all things are possible.

Please pray for all the fathers of the synod, especially for Pope Francis. Pray also for the Church that it may be truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

St Michael: Pray for us.
Holy Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies. Pray for us.