synod requires a culture of encounter

Pope Francis is a man who knows how to speak to the heart, from the heart. His homilies and talks touch many because he genuinely shared the life of the people he served in Buenos Aires.

Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.

(Pope Francis, October 4, 2014. Prayer vigil before Synod on the family.)

Francis paints a realistic image of the joys and struggles of family life. Pastoral experience and compassion give credibility to his words. The above quote is included in the lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on the family.

Some priests and bishops focus on promoting an idealized model of family wrapped in doctrinal purity and moral perfection. Perfection is unattainable for most. Despite our sincerest efforts, family life is often challenging and down right messy. We do not need to hear any more condemnations of our failings, or judgmental diatribes about our lives or those of our loved ones. We need compassionate support and practical help to safely traverse the challenges before us. We need spiritual tools to remain grounded in God’s love in the midst of the messiness.

It is simplistic and wrong to say that priests and bishops, because they are celibate, have no right to preach or teach about family life. The key, of course, is how grounded they are in the lived reality of those they serve. Pope Francis has captured the hearts of many because of his experience as a pastor who reached out beyond the confines of the chancery office. The recent synod recognized the need for the church to embrace this pastoral approach.

The path of renewal delineated by the Extraordinary Synod is set within the wider ecclesial context indicated by Pope Francis in his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, namely, starting from “life’s periphery” and engaging in pastoral activity that is characterized by a “culture of encounter” (Lineamenta, p.18)

Do you know a pastor or bishop whose homilies are characterized by a “culture of encounter” formed from genuine time spent with the families he serves? Please share your story. 

let’s have a personal dialogue on family life

I’m still struggling to regain a writing routine. My time, my mind, my energies have been focused on family this past year. The heart-tugs of family make church issues fade into irrelevancy. And yet, the intensity of family life is now calling me to write.

Bishops are preparing for the second synod for the family. We are, once again, made to hope that a more democratic spirit is finally blowing into Vatican halls. A questionnaire has been distributed reflecting on the current state of family life in the church and in the world. Unfortunately, the questionnaire is just as complicated and convoluted as the one for the recent synod. Also, it’s promotion and distribution depends on the good will of individual bishops and-or local episcopal conferences.

NCR editor, Dennis Coday, has published a cross-section list of American dioceses reporting on their efforts to canvass the opinions of local women and men. Some dioceses merely provide a link to the original lineamenta and questions. Some provide the same questions in an online survey format. Others have formulated a simplified version of the questionnaire. Some are making the questions open to every one. Others are seeking only the opinions of priests and those in active diocesan ministry. In all cases, the time frame is extremely limited.

This “catholic dialogue” blog was begun as a vehicle for open and free discussion on current issues facing our church. It was formed from personal frustration with a lack of true dialogue between our church leadership and the women and men whom they serve.

Our all male, celibate leadership is now preparing to reconvene and continue their discussions and decision making on family life. We need to take the time to ponder the issues presented in their working document (lineamenta). We need to share and discuss our own understanding of the church’s teachings on family life; an understanding based on thoughtful reflection, yes. But, more importantly, an understanding based on the reality of experience.

My humble plan is to use this blog in the weeks and months preceding the October synod to promote some online dialogue on family life, using the lineamenta as a stepping-stone. I will not be using a linear method, or attempting to address all the proposed questions. My hope is that, together, we can generate a more personal discussion. A discussion that will reflect the diversity of family life lived in all its joys and struggles.

My thoughts and your thoughts will most probably not make it onto the synod floor.

But….who knows?

input for the next synod for the family

Roman Catholic bishops are preparing for the second of two consecutive synods on the family. The first, the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, took place in October 2014 and addressed the topic, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. The document from that synod has become the working document (lineamenta) for the October 2015 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops titled “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world”.

The lineamenta for the first synod included a questionnaire. Unlike past questionnaires, this one was meant for all the people of God not just bishops. Sadly, the questionnaire was criticized for its lack of clarity and simplicity. Also, there was a lack of consistency in the solicitation of responses from lay women and men. Some bishops welcomed input from all. Some didn’t.

Enter lineamenta and questionnaire #2. I first read about it on our Archdiocesan web-site last week. There was a letter of introduction from our Archbishop dated January 28th. The online publication date was February 3rd. It was also announced in our Archdiocesan newspaper (received in our parish yesterday – Sunday, February 15th).

The deadline for submissions? February 16, 2015!

How easy is this set of questions? Here are the original questions, included in the last section of the lineamenta. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has published an edited version (eight pages!) to be distributed to dioceses across the country. This is the questionnaire that Canadian Catholics were invited to respond to.

I wanted to shake my head in disbelief, but it would have worsened the headache I got after reading both sets of questions. Keen Vatican watchers could have found the document on the Vatican web-site weeks ago and taken the necessary time to reflect and ponder on the questions in order to give a thoughtful response.

Granted, no one was expected to answer all the questions. In our archdiocese it was suggested that we answer three questions. The CCCB also left it to the discretion of each bishop whom to invite to respond to the survey, and which questions to address. There is also the option to respond to an “open question” at the end of each section.

An honest survey must be attentive to the day to day life of the average Catholic; those same women and men who form the many and varied families that the bishops are attempting to study.  I wonder how many responses will be received? How inclusive will these voices be? Will we hear from those on the fringes of church life? What about those who have already exited her doors because their family was no longer welcomed to the table?

A rhetorical question is one to which you do not expect a response. Is this merely a rhetorical survey?

More to come….