The synod on the family made news this week in the media around the world. As is the custom after a series of discussions in open session, the Synod moves into small group discussion. To help in the small group discussions and to give everyone a sense of the open debate a Post-discussion document is released. This document is not a decision but a working paper for the small group discussions to follow. But the document hit the headlines because of its sensitive, positive and hopeful spirit.
This working paper is in three parts it summarises the listening, looking, talking that went on in the first week.
Listening: The working paper gave a summary of what had been said in terms of the context and challenges to the family today.
Looking: This section was concerned with looking on Christ and seeing marriage and family life in terms of the Gospel. This section included much in the way of the beauty and holiness of family and mercy.
Talking: The final section gave a perspective on the debates which have already taken place in the synod. It was the tone of this section which drew the most positive attention.
It spoke with great compassion of those in difficult situations. It addressed the widespread practice of living together before or instead of marriage; it wrestled with the situation of those who are divorced and remarried and opened various possibilities of a positive pastoral response. In terms of the media, most attention was given to the positive remarks on homosexuality. The document spoke of homosexual having gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community and asked are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities. It pointed out how same-sex relationships can even “to the point of sacrifice constitute a precious support in the life of the partners.
Everything about the document and the Synod breathes hope and pastoral sensitivity.
As Archbishop Brislin said on Vatican Radio on Tuesday We have to get away from judging and condemning and to say how we can give support.
Good news indeed.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.
The first few days of the Synod on the Family have produced some interesting reports.? I am writing this on Wednesday so the week has a way to go, but there are indications of how things are developing.
First was the Popes very brief homily at the opening of the Synod.? Often on such solemn occasions there is a long and sophisticated address by the Pope.? But Pope Francis has his own style and is able to say what he wants to say simply, clearly and briefly.? He spoke about the spirit in which the Synod should conduct itself not a forum for beautiful and clever ideas or a contest to see who is more intelligent.? The whole spirit must be pastoral and thoughtful.? Echoing the very words of Jesus, he strikingly reminded the bishops that Bad pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move.
During the week some very helpful comments were made about how the words we use can alienate people from the Church and from Jesus.? Terms like living in sin, intrinsically disordered etc can not only hurt people but can close off possibilities of pastoral care.? The words we use influence the mentality we develop;? gentler, kinder language leads to a more respectful attitude and a greater chance of proclaiming the joy of the gospel.
Another issue which surfaces was the idea of gradualism:? a policy of gradual development instead of sudden change.? Behind this is the idea that we all grow gradually as disciples of Jesus.? Benedict XVI used to talk about people being able to take a first step.? It is wise to respect the slow pace of change in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
Finally (for this week) there was a lot of insistence on the fact that the Holy Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but Food for the Journey, Nourishment for the weak.? Such an approach draws more and more people to the Table of the Lord.
This session of the Synod is short and the hard decisions will emerge only next year; but it seems to have got off to a good start.? We must keep praying for the Synod.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.
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The parish is preparing for the First Holy Communion of children from the parish and from St Anthonys School.? I recently attend a meeting of all our catechists, then a Priests Meeting on catechesis and finally last Wednesday, a meeting of the parents? of the parish children who will make their First Holy Communion on October 19th at the 11 00 Mass.
It is very heartening to see the zeal of our catechists and their joy in communicating the faith to the children in their care.? Some of them are using the Good Shepherd programme and in time it is hoped that all be using that programme.? It is proving to be a wonderful tool for introducing little ones to every aspect of the faith in a way suited to their age.
It was also inspiring to notice the pastoral concern of the Archbishop and the priests for this vital work of catechesis.? And of course, it was a delight to meet with the parents whose children will communicate for the first time this month.
Even though we have excellent catechists, it is the settled view of the Church that the first catechists are the parents.? No amount of delegation to parish workers, priests or deacons etc can replace the parents in the ministry of handing on the faith.? It is this theological insight that lies behind the obvious concern about parents who, though Catholics themselves, are not coming to Mass.? Of course, handing on the faith begins in the home and so family prayers and rituals are very important; but if no adults in the family go to Mass, the little ones cannot come on their own.? I have heard of homes where the children? pester their parents to bring them to Mass
The last thing any of us wants is for the 19th of October to be not only the First Communion Sunday but the Last Communion Sunday.
My prayer for the children who will make their first Communion is that they will continue to get the example and encouragement they need from the home so that they can continue to grow into the wider community of faith.
I wish all the children and their parents and guardian every blessing as we get ready for the great day.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.