Monday, September 22, 2014

A Priest's Modest Proposal for the Synod on Families: Resolve to Act Like a Family

During the past few weeks, the Catholic blogosphere has been lighting up over a host of controversial topics.  Some of them have to do with the assignments of bishops and cardinals--who's winning in the ideological battles and who is losing.  Depending upon one's point of view, the good guys are being banished and the bad guys are taking over.  Or, from another perspective, the bad guys are finally being overthrown and the good guys are coming in to shake things up.

Besides personnel matters, there are doctrinal matters.  The Pope has called for a Synod on the Family and one of the hot button topics is the issue regarding communion for the divorced and remarried.  If the press reports are accurate, there are major battles shaping up in the College of Cardinals, one cardinal even speaking of a conspiracy of other cardinals against him.

All of this might make for good press, but I just want to speak from my very small experience as a priest who serves regular people every day.

Maybe . . . just maybe . . . what we need is a little less shake-up and a little more continuity.  Maybe we need a little less controversy, innovation, and change and a little more communion, familiarity, and stability.  I'm not talking about changes that might be good for pastoral governance--like reforming Vatican dicasteries, adapting annulment procedures, and directing the Church towards living the New Evangelization.  I don't mean the kind of change that moves people toward greater holiness, greater apostolic zeal, or greater virtue.  I mean the kind of change that just tends to stir up things in the lives of the Faithful and makes their life more tumultuous.

In the last fourteen years, just in my Archdiocese, we have gone through the sexual abuse crisis wherein scores of priests were accused, found guilty, and removed from ministry, the resignation of the archbishop, a round of parish closings that was basically a disaster, the closing of many Catholic schools because of lack of enrollment, the sale of almost our entire seminary property, a second round of parish reconfiguration, the resignation of a pope, a new liturgical translation, and now very public battles being waged in the blogosphere concerning bishops and cardinals and doctrinal matters pertaining to marriage and the Eucharist.  I understand that controversy and change have always been part of the life of the Church.  But, in today's age, controversy is more quickly spread through the Internet.  There can almost be a constant sense of controversy due to the rapid dissemination of news and opinion. 

Maybe we've had enough things shaken up for a century or so?  Maybe we should be looking at allowing the People of God to have a moment to regroup, to hold their Faith in peaceful possession, and to set aside controversy for a while?  While there is so much clamoring for changing things in the Church, is there not a sense that what some people might need--for the good of their souls--is more stability?  In an age when marriages and families are collapsing, perhaps instead of mimicking that same kind of family disunity, the Church ought to be striving to live in deeper communion.  In an age when people are starving for the stability of a family, perhaps the Church should focus on being a stable force in people's lives.  Instead of feeding the frenzy and provoking controversy--which people deal with in all other aspects of their lives--maybe we ought to strive to be a refuge for our people.  Maybe we ought to strive towards living our ecclesial life in such a way that it is not worse than what people experience in their families and workplaces.  

Priests and bishops love to quote Pope Francis.  So do I.  But, the Church needs to be more than just a bunch of quotes.  The Holy Father has said that the Church needs to be a field hospital where wounds are treated.  What are the wounds that many people experience today?  Is it not the wounds of despair, the wounds of disunity, the wounds of alienation, the wounds of cynicism, the wounds of a lack of security and stability?  People's families are collapsing and their jobs--if they have them--are at risk.  Spouses abandon one another at alarming rates.  If these are the wounds, why aren't we treating those wounds?  Instead of infighting and constant upheaval, perhaps we should display a humble and stable communion of life.  If there is machine gun fire coming from inside the field hospital, it's unlikely that patients will want to check themselves in.  If people already feel like their lives are in turmoil, why would they ever go someplace for refuge where there is even more turmoil?

The Church is always on the move.  It is in its nature to be a pilgrim people.  But, maybe we could move with a little more deliberateness and calmness.  Maybe we could move like a people on pilgrimage and not like the Hebrews being chased by Pharaoh. There are times when we may have to move like that, but let's not make that our standard mode of travel.  Maybe we could move like people being led by the Holy Spirit.  Yes, people being moved in love and in joy; moved to evangelize and to make disciples.  People moved to follow Christ more ardently. People moved towards poverty, chastity, and obedience.  People moved to love the poor and to reach out to those on the outside.  But not people who are simply tossed about.  Maybe instead of more committees, controversies, factions, programs, and activities, we need a little more charity, closeness, prayer, and forgiveness.  

I've served in a parish and now I serve as a college chaplain.  Admittedly, my experience is very small, so I understand that the experience of others might be different.  But my experience is that people are looking for a place to experience true communion.  Do we need to reach out to the divorced and remarried, the same-sex attracted, and the secularist?  Absolutely.  We should do so with zeal, tenderness, and joy.  But, what makes us so deluded to think that any of those people are going to want to come to the Church if the rest of us are all at war with each other?  We can't replace discipleship with controversy.  Well, we can, but it is going to lead to even more bleeding of the Christian faithful.  We should focus our efforts on preaching Jesus Christ.  We tend to talk about everything else, presuming that we've got the whole Jesus thing figured out already.  Maybe what is ailing the Church is a lack of focus on Jesus Christ and being his disciples.  

The impetus right now in the life of the Church--particularly ignited by Pope Francis--to reach out to others and to draw in those who feel abandoned or ostracized is absolutely beautiful and necessary. But, we need to find ways of doing that that do not constantly make people feel like the Church is being tossed back and forth between bickering ideologies.  Let's show mercy towards the divorced and remarried, the same-sex attracted, and whomever else feels ostracized.  But, let's also show mercy on the people who feel tossed about from one change to the next.  Let's all have mercy on each other.  Let's be generous in our mercy towards each other---even if we can't agree on how to move ahead on certain questions.  But let's not provoke situations--in the media and in the halls of ecclesiastical power--that makes the Church look like it is going through a pathetic and nasty divorce. 

My modest proposal for the Church's Synod on the Family?  Let the Church's pastors and people resolve to live like a true Christian family and thus provide the world a shining example of what the family is.  That's when the hospital will truly be open for business.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Fr., well said. It was the turtle who won't the race and not the hare. Let's all just take a nice deep breath, slow down and let the Holy Spirit do his work. Not to be a Francis quoting junky, but I think this one speaks well to your point: "Each of us has a story: a story of grace, a story of sin, a story of journey, many things. And it is good to pray with our story." Prayer requires that quite of which you speak, as individuals and as a Church. Remus.