Family in Focus: How do we continue the conversation started by the synod?

America’s editorial on the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on the Family rightly speaks of “a remarkable two-week period” (“Go in Peace,” 11/10). Anyone who followed the synod knows that it was characterized by passionate debate and even, in some instances, disagreement (which the final “Relatio Synodi,” or synod report, did not conceal). However, less noted than the more contentious issues was the common ground evident in confessing and celebrating the sacred nature and sanctifying gift of Christian marriage, as well as the acute awareness that it stands under growing threat in contemporary society.

After noting the drama that gave birth to the relatio, America’s editors rightly focus upon the task ahead. They write, “After this October opening, the time for the real work has come” and ask, “How shall that work be conducted?” Let me offer a preliminary response by saying that the work before us should transpire in a climate of profound prayer, respectful discussion and disinterested discernment. If that characterization of the climate needed for spiritual efficacy is given only notional assent or dismissed as merely pious rhetoric, then the likelihood of fruitful ecclesial discernment will be seriously diminished.

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St. Ignatius Loyola places at the very beginning of his Spiritual Exercises a demanding “Presupposition.” He writes: “It should be presupposed that every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it. Further, if one cannot interpret it favorably, one should ask how the other means it. If that meaning is wrong, one should correct the person with love.”

Nothing could be more enervating to the task of discernment than attaching facile labels of “legalist” or “liberal” and using them as excuses for not engaging the considered perspectives and arguments of others. In the spirit of St. Ignatius, the following presumptions should govern the deliberations of the year ahead. All parties concerned should seek to read the contemporary ecclesial and cultural context guided by the light of Christ, the light of the Gospel, as the synod report reiterates time and again. All parties should be committed to a common pastoral concern: to preserve and strengthen the sacred gift of marriage in Christ that has been entrusted to the church. Sobriquets like “conservative Catholic” or “progressive Catholic” (even as a self-designation) should be placed in mothballs. As Pope Benedict XV said in the days of the Modernist crisis, “Catholic Christian” should suffice to express our common heritage and commitment. These presuppositions will not eliminate debate and disagreement, but they can make them productive and bearers of spiritual fruit.

Facing Challenges

There is legitimate concern about several issues that have monopolized the attention of the media. One is access to the Eucharist for Catholics who have divorced and remarried. Another is the welcome extended by the church to persons of homosexual tendencies. Clearly these are grave matters that require prayerful and careful discernment. But the synod report, which should form the basis of our ongoing discernment, treats much more. It would be a serious error to abstract from the whole to focus exclusively on one or another of the parts.

Thus, it is critical that we do justice to the overriding theme of the synod. It has been summoned to deliberate upon “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” (emphasis added). In the introduction to the relatio, the bishops declare, “the family takes on a particular importance for the church in the present time when all the faithful are urged to venture forth from self. The family needs to see itself as an essential agent in the task of evangelization” (No. 2). (I am amending at times, for the sake of greater accuracy, the English translation that was posted on the Vatican website shortly after the synod meeting concluded.) Then, at the beginning of Part III, which considers “Pastoral Perspectives,” the synod teaches, “Proclaiming the Gospel of the family constitutes an urgent need for the new evangelization” (No. 29).

What is at stake in this discernment is nothing less than the Christian family’s involvement in that new (or renewed) evangelization that the Second Vatican Council inaugurated, that St. John Paul II articulated so powerfully, that Benedict XVI promoted and that has received its most recent magisterial expression in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.” The synod has been summoned to explore the Christian family’s indispensable role in witnessing to and proclaiming the joy of the Gospel, which is the joy of Jesus Christ.

In pondering this overarching theme, the synod report organizes its reflections into three major parts. It first gives its attention to the contemporary context in which Christian marriage and family life must be lived. It turns second to the beauty of the church’s proclamation of the mystery of marriage and family life in Christ. Finally, it addresses urgent pastoral concerns in living out that mystery. I would like to highlight briefly some points from each part.

The relatio admits with sober realism that there are aspects of contemporary society and culture that are not favorable to, or supportive of, committed Christian marriage. Economic factors like unemployment and poverty adversely affect family life, leading at times to family breakup and even emigration. The synod report also considers psychological factors, like rampant individualism and reluctance to enter into binding commitments, especially in the Western world. The synod laments the threats to affective maturity represented by a growing indulgence in Internet pornography and denounces the sexual exploitation of women and children.

In such a brief document, the synod can do no more than signal some of these negative signs of the times that need to be read and addressed by local communities in the light of the Gospel. But it is important to note that the synod’s recognition of these signs derives from an integral evangelical vision of man and woman created in the image and likeness of God, and that threats to that dignity arise from multiple social, cultural, political and individual factors. A comprehensive and catholic discernment must attend to all that frays and unravels the bonds of families and communities.

Beyond these pressing issues, the bishops raise another concern that must be faced and taken to heart. They speak of “the crisis of faith that has touched many Catholics, and that often lies at the origin of the crises of marriage and family” (Nos. 5 and 32). One can suggest numerous reasons for the precipitous decline, in the 50 years since Vatican II, in Mass attendance, sacramental marriages and infant baptisms, especially in North America and Europe. Revulsion at the sexual abuse scandals and the lack of accountability among some church leaders, along with disagreements over specific church teaching or discipline, doubtless played a role. Yet the bishops’ perception of a profound crisis of faith cannot be dismissed. Indeed, it corresponds to a haunting word of Jesus himself: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8).

The Measure of the Fullness of Christ

Part II of the synod report is titled “Gazing upon Christ: The Gospel of the Family.” It is significant that the very first paragraph of this section quotes the talk that Pope Francis gave on Oct. 4, during the prayer vigil, in preparation for the opening of the synod: “In order to navigate our way among these contemporary challenges, the essential condition is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, to linger in contemplation and adoration of his face.... Indeed, every time we return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and possibilities open.” The text of Scripture evoked here is the striking passage in the Letter to the Hebrews where the author exhorts the Christian community: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us put away every burden of sin that holds us tightly and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our gaze fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1-2).

Thus, both pope and synod urge the Christian community to renewed contemplation and adoration of him who is our only Savior. I believe the practice of eucharistic adoration to be integral to the process of discernment we will undertake in the course of the next year. Indeed, where but at the Eucharist did Ignatius himself draw insight for his ongoing discernment, with regard to both his own spiritual state and his guidance of others?

Developing further its teaching on the mystery of Christian marriage, the synod situates it within the history of salvation culminating in Christ. For Christian faith, the order of creation, with its climax in the creation of man and woman in the image of God, is oriented from the beginning to its fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ. The “divine pedagogy,” which the synod report extols, builds upon the primordial relation of man and woman and leads it to its consummation in Christian marriage, wherein it sacramentalizes the spousal covenant between Christ and his beloved, the church.

Such is the radical newness of Christian marriage that the church’s doctrinal tradition celebrates and serves. Hence, it would be a grave error to dissociate “doctrine” and “pastoral practice.” The latter must be rooted in the former and find its meaning and justification there. Of course, Christian doctrine is not reducible to propositions, since doctrine only seeks to illumine the mystery of Christ. Doctrines are, of their very nature, “mystagogic”: leading into the mystery of Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).

It is instructive here to consider two of the writings of the New Testament most explicitly concerned with pondering the intimate and indissoluble union of Christ and the church: the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians. They can serve well as lectio divina for this year of discernment. Each sets forth a wonder-filled vision of God’s plan of salvation that has been realized in Christ Jesus. The Letter to the Ephesians celebrates the full revelation of God’s will: “to recapitulate all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10). And the Letter to the Colossians, in its great Christological hymn, confesses God’s purpose: “to reconcile to himself all things through Christ, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20).

Each epistle meditates upon the mystery of Christ and then explores the consequences that flow from faith-filled appropriation of Christ’s mystery. Christ’s paschal mystery gives rise to a new order of relationships for all is now being transformed in Christ. Thus Ephesians exhorts Christians to put off the old self, corrupted by deceitful desires, and to put on the new self recreated in righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22–24). Colossians, too, insists that the old self of impurity and covetousness must yield to the new Christic self, for Christ is all and in all (Col 3:9-11).

At the heart of the good news, the joyful newness of the Gospel, is this passover from the old self to the new self that Christ’s paschal mystery makes possible, whether lived out in married or celibate life. This is the de-centering and re-centering so often referred to by Pope Francis since his homily to the cardinals the day after his election: Unless Christ and his cross stands at the center, the church becomes only “a charitable N.G.O.” In the context of the journey of discernment that lies ahead, let me parse the pope’s words. If our discernment regarding marriage and family is not deeply rooted in the mystery of Christ and the new life he inaugurates, pastoral accommodation risks becoming merely cultural capitulation.

Accompanying on the Journey

The theme of “accompaniment” on the Christian journey surfaced often in the deliberations of the synod. It is indeed a pastoral imperative, as the New Testament letters make abundantly clear. But, as they also insist, authentic accompaniment on the spiritual journey requires that the goal, the telos, of the journey be luminous: our eyes fixed on Christ. In a memorable passage in the Letter to the Philippians, Paul, having been “laid hold of by Christ Jesus,” strives to achieve the goal, “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14). And Ephesians, in a verse cited in the synod report, urges Christians to “speak the truth in love and thus grow in every way into him who is our Head, Christ” (Eph 4:15). The true growth of the body is always measured by the standard of Christ and the new life that flows from the Head to the members.

In this light, I conclude with a brief reference to two of the issues raised in the third section, “Pastoral Perspectives.” The synod report recognizes the urgent pastoral need both to prepare couples for the vocation of marriage and to support young couples in the early years of their marriage. It calls for “a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community” in this regard (Nos. 39 and 40). It will require generosity and creativity on the part of the whole community to meet this challenge. Yet it is a clear imperative if the family is to fulfill its role in the task of evangelization.

An example of one creative initiative is the attractive catechetical aid for the World Meeting of Families that will take place in Philadelphia in September 2015. This 120-page booklet, prepared by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family, is titled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive. Its 10 chapters, each enhanced by a work of art, offer a succinct but comprehensive and captivating overview of the Catholic understanding of marriage and family. It can serve well in marriage preparation sessions and parish discussion groups.

A second area calling for careful discernment concerns the process and grounds for annulment. Pope Francis, in a recent address to the Roman Rota, echoed the concerns in the synod report (No. 48) for a more expedited and less expensive process to discern the validity of a marriage of two baptized persons. A particularly delicate question is whether, besides the usual criteria bearing upon validity, one ought, in a highly secularized society, take into account the Christian faith (or lack thereof) of those who entered into the marriage covenant. Even though baptized, was one of the parties, in effect, a nonbeliever, lacking even implicit faith? Does this affect the marriage’s validity, and how can faith’s presence or absence be ascertained?

We embark, then, upon a year of concrete discernment concerning the great mystery and vocation of marriage and family, revealed fully in the experience of Christ’s spousal love for his church (Eph 5:31-32). As we seek to appropriate anew the beauty of God’s purpose for the human race, prayer and the Eucharist, as the synod insists in its “Message to Families,” must provide the indispensable setting and sustenance for our journey.

In the Missal, besides the familiar four eucharistic prayers, there are four additional “Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs” that are less known and used. The third of these bears the title “Jesus, the Way to the Father.” In it, we offer petitions that might well accompany us through this year of discernment:

O Lord, grant that all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel. Keep us attentive to the needs of all that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of your Kingdom.

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J Cabaniss
3 years 2 months ago
The popular discussion of the synod is focused primarily on the two subjects of communion for the divorced and remarried and the church's approach to homosexuals, with the first of these generating by far the most heat. If we want the focus changed back to the actual theme of the synod it would be helpful to clarify what is, or is not, being considered with respect to the communion question. The anxiety on this point comes from the belief that what is being proposed is that someone who divorced from a valid marriage and remarried will be allowed to receive communion. It would be a simple thing to put this idea to rest by stating that all that is being addressed are changes to the annulment process. Virtually no one is opposed to that and this would disappear as a concern if such a statement was made. Absent such a clear statement, however, the concern will remain...as it should, and as long as this issue remains open the rest of the work done by the synod as well as its conclusions will receive little attention outside of church offices and Christian media. The general public will be informed primarily by the mainstream media, their focus will be exclusively on the issue of communion, and it will not be favorable to the church. The church holds a gun pointed directly at its own foot and seems determined to pull the trigger.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
Somewhere in St. Paul's letter, he says that Eucharist can be salvation for the just and condemnation for the unjust. Clearly he is teaching that God can deal with the difference. To me that is a way out of trying to separate the worthy from the unworthy. We say we are all unworthy and indeed we are unworthy Can anyone tell me where St. Paul says this ?
Bill Mazzella
3 years 1 month ago
Paul, Paul does say that. But like much of his writings a monarchical, patriarchal bent is place on it. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of unity. So if we participate in it and we hate others, forget the beatitudes and look down on our fellow believers we offend the Body of Christ which is essential us, the people of God. But the monarchs turned it into only an offense against God which it is. But it is most accurately an offense against each other.
Chris NUNEZ
3 years 1 month ago
The traditional way is to have a potluck! Yes, our tradition works. Invite folks to bring their dish on a Friday, or a Saturday or Sunday early evening, and invite EVERYBODY! Don't talk about church 'politics' but about what's happening with your life and how you see your 'mission.' Ask about what your neighbors unmet needs are. We begin by sharing! every week for the whole year until the next Synod of Family Life. And yes! invite EVERYBODY, whether married, single, divorced, young or old, and do outreach for those who cannot get to the potluck without 'help' -- like transportation -- because We Share... that's who we are, we're people who share!
Jeanne Follman
3 years 1 month ago
Yes, everybody. That lack of "everybody" as auditors to testify before the bishops at the Synod was another shot in the foot. No users of artificial contraception, no cohabiting couples, no gay Catholics, no couples who are divorced and remarried. In other words, representatives of the vast majority of the faithful, at least in the West, were not heard from. Without such, who will take the Synod seriously?
Mike Evans
3 years 1 month ago
Once again the commentators set up a false dichotomy between the faithful and the rest of the world. It is not unlike the publican and pharisee at prayer, one just asking for mercy, the other parading his virtues. The facts from human experience, everywhere, is that marriage is messy, just as all life is messy. People make mistakes, repent, reconcile and then repeat. Sometimes the harm is irreconcilable. Let's not invent a new 11th commandment; the first ten are hard enough.
William Rydberg
3 years 1 month ago
Catholic suffices for me. I think that there is altogether too much emphasis upon the searching of Vatican Council II for the definitive solution. There has indeed been many authoritative Councils and Synods as well as a whole body of work called "Theology of the Body" which is more recent in vintage than Vatican II. Point being that we are called to love God (For Catholics this is unequivocally Jesus-God come in the flesh) primarily and everyone else (termed our Neighbours as ourself). So in my view the solution to any problem is seeking what Jesus has been saying as manifested in his Church teachings which largely has been with us from the beginning (the Family is not new). This is amply laid out in dogmatic teachings and also that of the Ordinary Magisterium. The greatest challenge today is acknowledging the plain meaning of the dogmatic teachings as being worthy of Faith. Sadly, there is a tendency to deem the plain language handed down to us to be a kind of "meta-language" wherein one assents to the words of the plain text, but internalizes a different meaning. This is hardly new, many of the great Catholic Apologists and Teachers of the last Century in the Anglosphere would complain about how hard it was to nail down definitions with their Peer Anglicans and Episcopalians in the last Century. Because they professed to firmly believe in the dogmatic statements but no one was quite sure what was believed once clarifying questions were posed. Let us all pray for the success of the Synod. in Christ,
Luis Gutierrez
3 years 1 month ago
As along as the church is not willing to reconsider the choice of the exclusively male priesthood (CCC 1598) all the rhetoric about the crisis of faith, and about the crisis of marriage and the family, will continue to lack credibility, and increasingly so as we inexorably continue to evolve toward a post-patriarchal world. We need both ordained fathers, and ordained mothers, to act in persona Christi capitis. Is "God the Father" exclusively male? Would Jesus, in today's world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? If Mary, an unbaptized woman, was called to divine motherhood, why is it that baptized women cannot be called to sacramental motherhood? This issue is being made unnecessarily complicated by theological rationalizations that defy common sense and the sense of the faithful. Buying time for the church, and upholding the supremacy of the Petrine office for making this kind of decisions, are becoming good intentions of the kind that pave the road to hell.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
This is a profound and beautifully written article....I especially like all the quotes from scripture. I am a cradle Catholic, now 69, who very rarely misses Sunday liturgy. At one time in my life I attended liturgy every single day for 15 years. I cannot remember in all those liturgies I have attended, one homily devoted to family life. Not one. (I did hear one homily in New Orleans where the Jesuit pastor said that Humanae Vitae was the most important encyclical of the past two hundred years.) Priests do not talk about marriage and family. My guess is that they do not because they do not think that much about it because it is not part of their everyday experience. Note in this article by Father Imbelli there is very little if anything said about the day to day experience of marriage and family. The truth is that the Bishops and priests are just not in tune with the issues surrounding contraception, divorce etc. They should have a better understanding of gays since so many good priests are gay themselves. In the interest of full disclosure let me say that I was married to my first wife for 24 years. At the advice of our doctor we stopped having children after we were blessed with two. We were not called to a celibate marriage. I also was a Director of Religious Education for seven years on a military post during the war in Vietnam. To ask soldiers who came home on leave to refrain from sex is truly irresponsible, and un-Christian. There is nothing in Sacred Scripture that would indicate otherwise. The Hierarchy has almost fifty years to nuance its teaching on Humanae Vitae. They could have reference the 1929 Lambeth Conference which put contraception in the context of generous service in life and warned against selfish motives for using contraceptives. The Catholic Church hierarchy chose to paint itself in an untenable corner by misinterpreting natural law as an absolute divorced from other considerations of marriage and life. Such certitude in this issue is simply not possible. I personally do not believe the Hierarchy will come to any resolution to these and other issues before the Synod in a year, ten years, or fifty years. To believe otherwise is naive. Imagine the grief of Catholics who are refraining from Eucharist and are waiting for a change in this discipline. Such a hurtful situation they are in if they follow the rule. Catholics were polled this past year on what they believed about denying communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried. Overwhelmingly in Europe and the US, they are scandalized by the present discipline. Let me offer one negative comment on Father Imbelli's great article. All the hours of Eucharistic devotion in the world will not solve one practical problem dealing with any of the issues that were mentioned in the Synod. Well that is enough for now. I submit my comments in the interest of the real world life of married Catholics. If you disagree as some will I refer you to Father Imbelli's Jesuit principle to interpret my words in the best sense possible. For decades now the Hierarchy has expounded on issues in marriage in which they have no personal experience. This is why for the majority of Catholics the Synod was nothing more than what Fox News referred to as a vacation for the Bishops. Rome, especially the Vatican is full of magnificent art treasures and some great Italian restaurants.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
I just decided to read the Relatio Synodi translated in English, My impression is that overall it is a very positive framework for discussion of marriage and family life. There were many good paragraphs pointing out issues and problems in modern family life. Still there were frequent references to past solutions that are to many part of the problem not part of the solution. My opinion is that the Hierarchy has gone as far as it will and can go with this document. I do not see any doors open to future change and development. This then is a victory for Church leaders and laity who wish to stand pat on present pastoral practices.
Michael Barberi
3 years 1 month ago
I wonder if there will be a role for the community of theologians throughout the world. Most of them are revisionists, and not traditionalists. Will the bishops merely choose to hear from a self-selected group of them reflecting one school of moral theology and not hear from the entire group reflecting different schools of moral theology? I hope all the laity, theologians and clergy will somehow be given adequate time and opportunity to express their viewpoints and that the bishops receive such perspectives with an open mind for the good of the Church.
Sandi Sinor
3 years 1 month ago
...builds upon the primordial relation of man and woman and leads it to its consummation in Christian marriage, wherein it sacramentalizes the spousal covenant between Christ and his beloved, the church. If I read one more priest or theologian's commentary on marriage that equates it with a "spousal covenant between Christ and his church" I may just give up forever. Even worse - the "primordial" relation of man and woman that leads to "consummation" in Christian marriage? Oh dear. It's all about the primordial.. The point of marriage is procreation to make families. The point of families, apparently, is to "evangelize" Oh, these celibates. What to do with them? Language about Paschal mystery and all of us putting on our "Christic" selves - so poetic, and almost totally irrelevant when it comes to the real challenges of real families. If Fr. Imbelli and all should read another article in this issue of America - it is a beautiful description of how the "real" sacraments of family manifest in "real" life. Is this another way of saying that this is how we become our "Christic selves"? Maybe. But it conveys what the high-level theological language does not. http://americamagazine.org/issue/everyday-sacraments And then there is the call to all families to eucharistic adoration - this will turn the tide. Most of us who are married and live in real families do not have the luxury of time available to celibate academics. When to go to adoration? Do we squeeze it in after taking Joanie to soccer practice or before we take Joey to his scout meeting? Or maybe first thing in the morning - but, darn, there are breakfasts and lunches to be made, kids packed off to school, and that little thing called work - including the 40 minute commute each way. Maybe between fixing dinner and doing the second load of laundry? But then who will make the dinner and do the laundry? Maybe skip supervising homework, baths and stories? I mean - forsaking these responsibilities would be for the sake of the family, right? An hour of silence to contemplate the face of Christ - such a lovely thought. Sadly, for most people who are an active part of real marriages and real families these days, an hour in a quiet church would probably end up with us laying across a pew - sound asleep. God bless Fr. Imbelli. He means so well. But I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry. This essay is a classic - the view from the ecclesiastical academy - "family" and "marriage" from a male, celibate ivory tower, full of lofty thoughts, scripture, well-meaning - and so far removed from real marriage and real family that there is almost nothing in it that either reflects real marriage or real family beyond the recommendations to read some of the literature for the upcoming Synod. I do hope Fr. Imbelli (and the other Jesuits on the staff) read the comments here, and in the future, perhaps, offer some real world essays from people who actually live the sacrament of marriage and family every minute of their lives, rather than trying to pretend they understand it from the safe distance of eccesiastical, academic ivory towers..
Bill Mazzella
3 years 1 month ago
" I believe the practice of eucharistic adoration to be integral to the process of discernment we will undertake in the course of the next year." Rather than Eucharistic Adoration we might help ourselves as the People of God, the Church, by understanding the Eucharistic celebration we participate in weekly. It has always been the right practice to insist that we convene the faithful at the Sabbath where we celebrate the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. While the Second Vatican Council did so much to help us understand the Eucharist, we still lag in demonstrating to all how central this Service is. We have done such a poor job in doing this, so much so that some have asked that a Mass not be celebrated at their funeral since " it is so impersonal." We have thankfully gotten away from the nonsensical practice of private Mass. But we have not fully appreciated the Eucharist itself nor have we helped others value it as it should be. In keeping with the above we have not learned that the Eucharist is the heart of who we are. But rather have surrounded it with politics, and bad news instead of the Good News that it is. Most of the people hardly know each other in a ceremony presided over by someone they see once a week. Who knows little about their lives. Nor is he interested except that they contribute enough for the buildings needs. So admire the 187 million new St Patricks while what should be happening there is far from the ideal.. So we could continue to propound marriage as the symbol of Christ and his Church while we know little about each of them.
Nicholas Clifford
3 years 1 month ago
There is much in this that is well worth calling to our attention so that we may keep our eyes focused on what is truly important in our family relations, and indeed in all our relations with one another. Perhaps I am misreading the article, but I find it surprising in a piece entitled "How do we continue the conversation started by the synod" that nowhere is that "we" defined. In short, who are the participants in the conversation and with whom do they converse? What should be the role of the laity, or more properly, what if anything will it be in reality? In my own diocese, for instance, little or nothing was done prior to the synod by diocesan leaders to engage parishes and their members in any conversation, and I suspect that even parish priests were kept out of the loop. Of course it's impossible really to tell since the bishop declined to make any comment on what sort of a report he submitted to Rome prior to the start of the synod, or to say whom he had consulted. I am not questioning the episcopacy's right to secrecy; unfortunately it can arrogate to itself whatever rights it wishes. That's not the issue; the issue is how effective episcopal teaching, arrived at simply through the internal conversations of a small exclusive group, will be when promulgated to the rest of the world. By all means, let us have the conversations Father Imbelli calls for; but let us also define who are to be the participants in this conversation. Bishops talking simply to bishops will not work; and laypeople talking simply to laypeople will not work either. It is neither right nor particularly efficacious for us to take, say, the inner workings of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party as a model for Christians.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 1 month ago
We certainly live in a new world today where people are marrying past thirty most commonly. So you can count on your hands those who are are not having sex with their fiancees or future spouses. This is a problem that must be addressed. Not in the hypocritical way that the hierarchy states, namely, "the internal forum." The blatant hypocrisy that states you can deal with your daily contraceptive practices as long as you confess...yada, yada, yada.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
For years Cardinal Kasper has argued if one says that divorced and remarried Catholics can unite with Christ in prayer in and outside the liturgy how can we say they cannot receive communion. The Relatio repeats this argument and says it needs more study in theology. So if theologians study this will they not be then shot down by the Vatican as most of their suggestions have been shot down ? Cardinal Kasper is by the way a formidable theologian. Another question: how does anyone know if Catholics are following this discipline and not going to communion anyway ??? Divorce unlike eating meat on Friday is a serious moral problem in my opinion. The Catholic Church allows divorce but calls it by another name: i.e. annulment.
Michael Barberi
3 years 1 month ago
Great comments by Paul Ferris, Bill Mazzella, Nicholas Clifford, Sandi Sinor, and others. I'll keep my comments very short. I think Nicholas hit the nail on the head, as his comments echoed mine. This article is entitled "How doe we continue the conversation started by the Synod?" Who exactly are the "we"? I can attest, following NIcholas's comments, that my parish had no conversation before the Synod, during the fist session of the Synod or after it. I personally met with my parish priest and asked him about the survey and how do parishioners participate in it. He said "I heard nothing". After the survey was sent to Rome, I asked him again about it. He said, "I heard nothing but assumed that the answers to the many questions were being appropriately secured and were sent forth. Really? I searched online and found one parish in Washington State where any Catholic could complete the survey (that was reformatted into an online survey for completion). I did so, but was very disappointed about the process. If this "conversation" is only limited to bishops, and selectively to those who they choose to listen to, then I am fearful that the voices of the People of God will not be adequately heard. At this point, we can only "pray" for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for all the bishops and for the intentions of Pope Francis. As for Eucharistic Adoration, the use of symbolism and its proper meaning equating the love between spouses to Christ's love for the Church, and the disenfranchisement of the divorced and remarried from the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, much needs to be done. The message must be understandable and convincing to families, unambiguous to their discernment of right and wrong in existential circumstances, and fruitful to the call to love of God and neighbor without the imposed requirement of an excessive and extreme practice of virtue.
Abigail Woods-Ferreira
3 years 1 month ago
I second the importance of prayer in this process of discernment, and would add scripture to that. The title of that Eucharistic prayer, "Jesus, the Way to the Father" is most appropriate; it reminds me of the Gospel reading at my and my husband's own wedding: John 17, "That they may be one," a Gospel we choose because we believed it revealed the heart of what marriage and family life means in the big picture of God's plan of love and peace for the human family and for the church. It was a passage I returned to the other day when I was reading Maximus the Confessor on Christ and the human being as the cosmic mediator, and the 5 "polarities" which we unite - Created and Uncreated, Visible and Invisible, Earth and Heaven, Paradise and the Inhabited world, and between Man and Woman. It drew me to reflect on how a broad commitment to unity is central to renewing family life. Spousal unity happens in the context of social solidarity, environmental and economic justice, and peace in the world...and ecumenical unity in faith. And vice versa; peace and unity in the family leads to greater peace and unity in the world and the "cosmos". I am heartened that Pope Francis has spoken about these connections and advocates for family in this context. However, often it seems that many Christians decontextualize the renewal of the family, trying to blame family breakdown just on a personal "lack of commitment" in young people (how can young people without adequate jobs commit to a marriage?), or on isolated violation of certain sexual teachings. These things are not unimportant - but when Pope Francis says we don't need to "talk about them all the time," I think he means it is harmful to talk about them in a de-contexualized way that doesn't connect family life and sexuality to the larger picture of cosmic, environmental, and social unity and which only furthers ideological polarization and the advancing of political agendas. Renewal of family life will only happen through peacemaking, unity, and justice in the big picture. I am thankful for Pope Francis's pastoral wisdom and witness of this truth.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
People can continue the conversation by reading the Relatio Synodi. It could be a subject for adult education in a parish setting. The whole tone of the document is positive even when it points to customs and practices that do not comport with traditional Catholic doctrine and way of life. I think the words sin and sinner are mentioned only two or three times and always with an accent on mercy, forgiveness, and the need for education and growth. Encourage everyone who has commented on this article to read the Relatio Synodi.
Joseph Manta
3 years 1 month ago
I am not a theologian, not even an armchair one. But I think I understand logic and logic tells me the following: If divorced and remarried Catholics are permitted to partake in the Eucharist, it means one of two things: 1. Living in unrepentant, continuing sin with no intention of trying to stop is no longer a sin, or 2. Whether or not you are in unrepentant, continuing sin is not relevant to receiving communion. I see no other logical conclusion. And if this drastic change in the church teaching is to be made, how can it be limited merely to divorced and remarried Catholics. Why shouldn't this not apply to Catholics who are unmarried and living with multiple parties? Moreover, with all the stresses on married couples to keep their vows of love and fidelity, I don't see how diluting the meaning of marriage helps. And all the Clintonian parsing of words and references to the "pastoral" without adhering to the truth make it even worse. Shouldn't our goal be to strengthen marriage not dilute it?
Michael Barberi
3 years 1 month ago
Joseph, There was a lengthly argument worth reading on the issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried in the blog comments on several other recent Am. Mag. articles touching on this subject. It is a complex issue but it is not impossible to navigate through this seeming dilemma. Let's pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the bishops and Pope Francis with God's wisdom, understanding and mercy.
Paul Ferris
3 years 1 month ago
Was Jesus being logical when he said, "forgive seven times seventy" ? Was Jesus being logical when he told a story about a man who worked one hour and got the same pay as the man who worked all day ? Repentance is not always so simple. or logical as one might think. Many people who have failed in their first marriage have used that failure to grow and become more mature and even better Christians. The marriage may be not be repairable. So many people try again another time and learn from their past mistakes. They may even need the sacrament of Eucharist and Penance to keep their second or even third commitment. Poll after poll show that Catholics understand that people whose first marriage failed, should not be excluded from communion. Are these Catholics all lacking in logic. Maybe so but maybe they understand Jesus better who said, I came for sinners, not for the righteous. Maybe that is why before communion Catholics pray, Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed.
DONALD DOHERTY
2 years 11 months ago
I'm sure Fr. Imbelli is trying to be helpful...however he uses a phrase which totally continues a horrible understanding of gay people.He says"to persons of homosexual tendencies"...this indicates what many think about gays..it refers to behaviour..."tendencies"?..these are people who are by ORIENTATION gay....it has nothing to do with behaviour.It supports an understanding that homosexuals are people with "tendencies" to sin..how then would we describe heterosexuals?..as people without "tendencies" to sin?..Fr. Imbelli could do so much more to help by using language that does not somehow seem to support gays as innately disordered by their "homosexual tendencies".

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