After the Synod

There seems to be general agreement that the final text of the Synod is a much better document than the Lineamenta or preliminary working document which raised such a storm in certain quarters. It is theologically more precise, richer in biblical underpinning and more eloquent in expression. It allows us to see that the scope of discussion was wider than Western media headlines sometimes suggested. Here in the monastery we shall be studying it, together with Pope Francis’s final address, in the leisurely manner characteristic of monks and nuns. It takes time to tease all the nuances out of Roman documents; and now that we no longer have a single Latin text to work from, it is useful to look at a number of translations in various languages.

As one might expect, not all the hopes or fears expressed before or during the Synod were realised. I think what I predicted at the start — no change in doctrine, but one or two shifts in language which may, or may not, prove to be significant in the long term — was broadly right; but we shall have to see what develops. In particular, we shall have to wait to see where Pope Francis takes things. It is easy to forget that the Synod of Bishops, even though augmented as this one was with other participants (not all of whom had voting rights), is essentially an advisory body to the pope. As canon 383 say, it is ‘a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world.’ What, perhaps, Catholics in America and Europe were less prepared for than we should have been is that the Church in Africa now speaks even more forcefully and, if the word must be used, conservatively, than we anticipated. The Synod has demonstrated that the shape of the Church is changing. It is no longer Eurocentric; even the mighty U.S.A. has less power than it once had — or so it seems to me.

Truth does not change, but the way in which we present it may. Do we now have a Church in which we must seek to find not so much a common mind as a common form of expression? That is particularly important when one considers the role that the media played. Synod particpants seemed to have a second life, blogging, tweeting and giving numerous interviews, many of which were taken up by commentators with more energy than expertise. I am not convinced that the cacophony of voices, some of them ill-informed, some of them bad-tempered, and some of them downright divisive, really contributed much of lasting value. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t comment or question, but there was a lot of scare-mongering and finger-pointing that I found anything but helpful. Quite clearly, we need to examine how we use the media in our public discourse; and that is a larger, and more urgent question, than many seem to appreciate.

The press briefings given each day by the different language groups provided fascinating insights into the synod process and the reactions of the participants, at times leading to quite different impressions (e.g. on the role of religious women, the diaconate, etc). One expects disagreements; one expects confusion, leaks and, unless one is hopelessly naive, a good dollop of not-so-behind-the-scenes scheming and politicking. A Church that is numerically so big and geographically so widespread is always going to have to work at discussion and debate, but I think I am encouraged. The Church has reaffirmed that the family is, as she has always maintained, the most important of human institutions, one with a divine vocation no human law can change or diminish. It is the centre or source from which all evangelization proceeds because it mirrors the inner life of the Trinity. There were questions we may think the Synod failed to address adequately, but to be reminded of the immense dignity of being human, of the holiness to which we aspire, flawed and sinful though we are, is no small thing.

The Synod on the Family is over. Now the really difficult work begins, to translate words into action, and it is entrusted to each one of us. May the Holy Spirit give us the wisdom and courage we need.

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9 thoughts on “After the Synod”

  1. i always appreciate your blog posts, Sister. Thank you! I had to preach twice yesterday, on the Church in the morning and the Bible in the evening. Both went well, but next I have to preach on Christ the King and am searching for inspiration! Wish I had your skill.

  2. I have read some of the media coverage of the outcomes, all of them seem to be quite negative.

    I on the other hand see it as positive that the Church is prepared to debate contentious items, whether or not they agree on an outcome.

    For the moment the situation seems to remain as it has been, but with a change of pastoral approach at a local level. The language in particular not being dumbed down, but softened in ways that make it more understandable and acceptable to the reader or recipient.

    I think that prayer and patience might be needed as Pope Francis ponders for himself and prays into the outcomes.
    I’m not holding my breath for an immediate announcement that will amaze the world, but a carefully considered and prayerful on in due course.

    If there could be some accommodation of those Catholics who are divorced, perhaps the investigation of an annulment if there was some impediment to the original marriage. I know that this is a difficult area for many Catholics, so only suggest that a way forward might be found, and will pray for that.

    In terms of the ministry of women, I don’t know enough about the understanding of Catholic Priesthood to comment, but know that I welcome the ministry of my Anglican Parish Priest, Jane, who have been an inspiration to me and has helped me greatly in exploring my own vocation towards licensed Lay Ministry.

    Human sexuality doesn’t appear to me to be a topic which can be discussed in a Catholic context without causing real hurt to both sides. But a pastoral response, which doesn’t consign people to hell out of hand might be helpful to all. And I know that Pope Francis has in the past, been supportive of this approach.

    Prayers as you ponder the Final Paper and the Pope’s Closing address.

    • I wouldn’t say all the media coverage of the final document has been negative, far from it; nor would I necessarily agree that discussion of human sexuality/divorce is particularly difficult for Catholics. I suspect it can be difficult for everyone at times! I think a lot of people are a bit hazy about how the Synod of Bishops operates and what its remit is. It isn’t really like the Anglican version. I think we all need prayer at the moment, above all the pope, as he has a very daunting task ahead of him. Thank you for praying.

  3. Naturally, as ever, you are correct.
    However, it only takes a heartbeat of thought to know that Jesus rebuked the “theologians”/Pharasees of His day for their love of the Law above the love of the ordinary people.
    We all know how important the family are or none of us would be here, the question surely is, what about the rest?Those wanting to re-marry, those who have been badly treated etc.
    The Church is alienating not embracing.

    • To be fair, I don’t think one can interpret scripture quite like that. After all, as one very distinguished scripture scholar once remarked, wasn’t it likely that Jesus was himself a Pharisee, i.e. brought up to love and revere the Law, which was not seen as being in opposition to the love of God but rather its expression? I understand what you are saying and why, but you know how often I say that we must not talk about the Church as something other, something hostile. However difficult membership of the Church may be at times, there is no alternative, is there? She is like the mist that both reveals and conceals the Light. Praying for you, as always.

  4. Over the past weeks I’ve repeatedly prayed we might understand that the Synod and its aftermath is a process, not an event, and for the importance of thinking with the mind of the Church for our own good.

    The outcome of the Synod affects us all, whether in a distressing situation or in long term stable marriages because we are all one body in Christ. I hope everyone, no matter where they fit into this takes the time to read and reread the final document, prayerfully and with an open heart and doesn’t allow it to become an “us vs. them” struggle.

  5. “Jesus rebuked the “theologians”/Pharisees of His day for their love of the Law above the love of the ordinary people.” Sigh – that’s such a misreading. Jesus would never reproach love of the Torah – Law as we roughly translate it – for Torah is God’s perfect word and will which has love at its heart. Jesus challenged wrong interpretation or wrong understanding of Torah. Hence His use of the well known rabbinic phrase about destroying / fulfilling the Torah, used in disputes as to whom is correctly interpreting it.

    Of all the various groups in a very diverse Jewish scene, Jesus was closest to the Pharisees – and hence held His most serious disputes with them. St Paul clearly considered his own Pharisaical past as bearing witness to his fidelity to the faith of Israel.

    • To be fair to Alexander, I think he was probably thinking more of Jesus’ challenge to some of the narrower interpretations of the Law that were current in his day. As I said, Jesus was quite probably a Pharisee himself.

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