I imagine that Pope Francis picked this day and these scripture readings on marriage to begin the Synod on Marriage which will run from the 4th til the 25th of this month. Bishops from around the world will meet with Pope Francis in Rome to discuss and give us guidance on different issues that are part and parcel of family life today. The theme of this second synod on the family is, The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World’. Hopefully our bishops will encourage and re-inforce good people who are living in stable and life giving relationship and hopefully, following the example of Pope Francis they will walk pastorally with those men and women whose marriages are on the rocks and especially those who have found new life and love in new relationships.
After last year’s Synod those in charge sent out a questionnaire to the bishops of the world which they were to pass on to their people in order to get feedback on what the people of the church thought about the present situation of married life today and what might be pastoral responses to these issues. Many bishops used this questionnaire others did not.
In February a group of Catholics from Germany wrote to Pope Francis pointing out the weaknesses of this synod’s questionnaire saying they thought “The questionnaire is far too complex and, with its abstract language and juridical views of marriage, it is largely incomprehensible to even the most well educated Catholics. It will not gather the much-need input from Catholic families themselves. The questionnaire should allow respondents to voice their personal sense of the faith and how they understand marriage and family. With freedom of expression in such a survey, new perspectives can emerge, and the Church may find fresh ways of showing compassion and providing pastoral care. Clearly, the synod’s questionnaire will not do this.
Family is a very important topic for Catholics around the world and so important that it has been reported that over 12,000 people from 42 countries responded to a single questionnaire handed out in parishes. Other groups in different countries have done the same thing, they believe this a truer way of finding the people’s concerns and desires. It should be our prayer that these new questionnaires will be given a hearing at the synod.
I think too many people have unreal expectations of this synod of bishops. The ‘foreverness’ of marriage cannot be changed and hopefully the good men and women who are faithful to their marriage commitments will be recognized and praised. The pastoral issues of this synod will centered around those whose marriages did not live up to their expectations, for whatever reasons; the walking wounded of the family of the church. How can we, as church, walk with them and welcome them home – if indeed they want to come home.
As we know from the press there are differences of opinion in these matters. There are strong personalities who want to hold the line and there are others who want to change the lines of look at the lines in a new way. One churchman described struggle in this way, he says ‘it will either be the brutality of rigorist or the gentleness of mercy.’Lines have been drawn. Pope Francis described the church as a field hospital in which peoples wounds are treated and then sent on their way. The focus of this synod will first of all assert the permanency of marriage and try to heals the wounds of weakened and broken marriages and find a way to bring the victims of broken marriages back into the life of the church making them know they are welcome at the table of the Lord.
These bishop’s synods are the product of Vatican 2 and they were meant to facilitate free and open discussions among the bishops concerning the subject matter being discussed. Pope Paul’s vision of the synod was never realized. The synods held by John Paul 2 and Pope Benedict was totally controlled by cardinals in the Vatican chosen by the Pope. They set and controlled the agenda and set and controlled the final report of the agenda. Pope Francis wants a free and open discussion on all the matters with which this synod is concerned. No one will get fired if they disagree with the Pope because he wants an open and listening church.
In these coming weeks we should all pray for all those participating in this important meeting. May they be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and open to all the men and women of the world who struggle to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus, ‘what God has joined let no one put asunder’. We pray too for all the walking wounded of our church that they may find peace and hope in their lives.