Heart Burns or Good News for Human Family?
Expect not for you shall not be disappointed, the 9th Beatitude? Or table fellowship of Lord merciful who delights to sup with publicans, sinners and prodigals? World waits with bated breath, how the Synod fathers bite this bullet bravely and graciously, fortis in re, suaviter in modo.
dr james kottoor
EXTRAORDINARY, is the word writ large on the horizon and it is fast dawning. Precisely from Oct.5 to 19 world’s Catholic bishops synod will hold their session in Rome. Challenges facing the Family in the context of a multiplicity of new claimants to that name by a patchwork families like cohabiting families, same-sex families, families without children, single parent families, divorced and remarried families, surrogate mother families etc. is the topic of their study and deliberation. Was the “who am I to judge?” pope, who blessed even cohabiting couples on 14/9/14 sending a signal to the Synod?
Pity is, today marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. This causes family break-up, break down, violence and abuse So elaborate preparations were going on for the last one year on a global level and the final curtain to this mammoth study – a two-year project -- will fall only in October 2015. The present extraordinary synod will conclude only the first stage of a worldwide reflection on pastoral care of families.
A grand total of 242 at the Rome meet, will include 197 Bishops (Pope, Cardinals and Patriarchs), 15 Priests, 1 Religious Sister, 6 Laymen (single), 9 Laywomen (single), 14 Married Couples (= 28 individuals) according to reports. This includes 8 Fraternal Delegates (other Christian churches). Only 204 clerics in the A list of Cardinals, bishops and priests will be allowed to vote. Those in the ‘B’ list of 39, mostly laity, will be allowed to speak, but not vote. Married couples are from: Brazil, Iraq, Congo, Philipppines South Africa, Chile, Rwanda, USA, Lebanon, Italy, Australia, and France. India does not figure here with any lay or clerical name. Of the 242 total participants 44 are non-clerics and make up 18.2% of the assembly, according to dependable sources.
How does this synod compare with the first synod on the family held in October 1980, 12 years after Pope Paul VI’s controversial Encyclical Humanae Vitae (still a bone of contention in the present synod) on Birth Control published on July25th feast of St.James the Apostle in 1968? According to Thomas Reese, SJ of NCR, it was attended by 200 bishops, no women, from over 90 countries. There were 160 eight-minute speeches at the synod. It concluded with a pastoral message of "love, confidence and hope" to Christian families but maintained the policy of excluding divorced and remarried Catholics from Communion. The moot question raised at the present synod is precisely this: Will they be admitted to communion? In US alone Catholic divorcees are reported to be 11 million.
Family Synod by Celibates?
So, number wise at lest there are more participants. In the place of “no women” present one includes a list of ladies and couples. Still they are a small fraction compared to male celibates dominating the place. Cynics argue that a Family synod must be dominated by family people, married persons not old celibates. Half in joke, half in earnest wrote Chottebhai: “Celibate old males sitting in boardrooms, should not decide the fate of young couples in bedrooms” Mary McAleese the outspoken former Irish president is quoted saying: there is “just something profoundly wrong and skewed” about asking clergy for their views when they are all “male celibates who have decided they are not going to have any children, not going to have families, not going to be fathers and not going to be spouses.. discussing the matter. It is completely bonkers.” Such observations from family people must have caused the entry of 44 non-clerics who make up 18.2% of the assembly of 242.
Foreseeing the possibility of not getting due place at the round table discussing family problems, church citizens (laity) all over the world have been putting in their mighty mite to get an access into this synod to make their voices heard, their clarion call being “Families must have a say in a Synod on Family Life.” One such important world wide net work is Catholic Church Reform International (CCRI).
CCRI Rome Meet Oct.2-3
Started On June 20, 2013, CCRI (www.catholicchurchreform.com) is a global network of more than a hundred organizations and individuals from over 65 countries seeking basic reforms of the Catholic Church through a united voice and collaborative action in support of all the initiatives Pope Francis is taking, according to Rene Reid, the co-founder. Robert Blair Kaiser is the other member, both from US. It has over 100 members in India working in its various committees. The Pune Consultation was organised in consultation with it. The CCRI has been studying the rather ‘flawed’ Vatican questionnaire on family and the hard to crack instrumentum Laboris sent out for information and reflection. CCRI has been sending various group petitions signed by members to the Pope, besides feed back to Cardinal Baldisseri head of Synod Secretariat, to the Council of eight and to Presidents of 114 Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world to apprise them of people’s thinking world wide.
To help Synod Fathers wake up and acknowledge the outcry of the Faithful, CCRI prepared a 28-page position paper entitled Listening to the Faithful: Recommendations to the Synod on the Family, urging Synod fathers to review and revise some of the long-time Church teachings on the family, especially to translate prohibitions into compassionate counselling based on the primacy of conscience. Four points stressed are:
1. Move away from the hierarchy’s rules-based culture and support all efforts of the Faithful to develop genuine, loving, and fulfilling relationships.
2. Move beyond setting narrow restrictions on birth control by promoting all kinds of openness to life and care for our planet.
3. Recognize that gender neither defines the roles nor the tasks that people are capable of taking on either in the Church or in Society; rather, their talents and gifts should be the criteria.
4. Proclaim that the truth in our Church is expressed through the sensus fidelium – priest, religious, and the people all learning and teaching together.
CCRI Two-day meet In Rome
To get themselves seen, heard and taken note of by the Synod Fathers the CCRI is holding its own two day conference in Rome at Synod door steps, on Oct.2-3, two days prior to the actual Synod. Some of the top speakers at this conference are:
Sr.Joan Chittister (Erie, Pennsylvania U.S.A.) a Benedictine sister, writer and speaker on social issues; John Buggy (Sydney) Reform spokesman in Australia; Robert Mickens a Rome-based journalist on Vatican synods and analyst for the BBC; Marilyn Hatton-Collins (Canberra), mother, nurse and advocate for women’s equality; Paul Collins (Canberra) historian, broadcaster on Catholicism and papacy; Sr. Mary John Mananzan (Manila) a Benedictine sister, an expert in participative relationship of father, mother, children; Janet W. Hauter(USA) involved in leadership positions and church reform; Rene Reid (Reno, Nevada) co-founder and Director of CCRI to be in charge as convenor of the sessions during the Forum. Here again Church in India shines best by its total absence.
CCRI believes that transparency must be the hallmark of today’s Church and so demands the whole Synod proceedings to be broadcast to the whole world. Pope sent his personal letter to individual families to listen to their raw voices responding to his questionnaire. If certain Bishops conferences like the one in India did not act on this instruction in an open and transparent way, quite unlike their counter parts in Europe and Americas, in spite of their faithful urging them for it, the Pope is not to be blamed. As a result, it seems, there is not even a couple from India going to Rome to highlight in the Synod shockingly disastrous family problems plaguing India like Dowry deaths, Love Jihad, female feticide, Government forced birth control anathema to church, all-pervasive rape and hanging of girls in many states, thorny interreligious marriage conflicts, rigid patriarchal system causing havoc in the country and Church. So the CCRI appeals to Synod Fathers using Pope’s own words: “Dialogue, Dialogue, and Dialogue! Dialogue with spouses, with parents, and with families of every kind now in vogue. Listen to them, learn from them, and trust their Spirit-led discernment by including them in the decision-making process in the synod.”
Exodus of Divorced from Church
One vexing malady eating into the sanity and sanctity of wedded life, especially in the west is the all pervasive divorce and remarriage. They desert the church for excluding them from communion instead of imitating the table fellowship of Jesus which included saints, sinners, betrayers and prostitutes. While certain hard core theologians (Cardinal Pell of Sydney is one with his book-long response to Cardinal Kasper on indissolubility) argue against watering down gospel truths for the sake of pastoral care, (publications like “Remnant” is their mouth-piece, with latest article: “Stop the Synod! (An Online Petition)” by Christopher A. Ferrara) Cardinal Walter Kasper referred to as Pope’s theologian, wax eloquent saying: “The name of our God is Mercy”
Church is sacrament of God’s mercy, not merely an agent of that mercy; it is as well object of God’s mercy since it contains sinners to be purified; its central mission is to witness the good news of mercy to the poor (Lk 4:18), not only to the materially poor. So he asks: what about the spiritually poor “the de-facto excommunicated, the divorced and remarried and so barred from the table of communion of the Lord?” The WORD became flesh and built a Church of LOVE. Sad, it became a church of LAW. “If the sinner regrets his or her actions and repents, the community should let gentleness again prevail (2 Cor 2:5-11)” Indissolubility of sacramental marriage is the doctrine which cannot and will not be changed. But complex are situations, no one typical case of divorce and remarriage. Therefore there can’t be one standard solution for every situation….The best cannot always be done, but we should always do the best possible. Jesus did not start with principles to solve problems but applied mercy to harsh ground realities to make principles pliable as in the case of merciful Good Samaritan(Lk 10:30-37) Bottom up, not top down, is to be the way for good pastors, not starting from principle but from the wounded on the ground. “Mercy is the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life. Mercy is the best and most beautiful news that can be told to us and that we should bring to the world. As God by his mercy always gives us a new chance, a new future, our mercy gives future to the other, and to a world that needs it so much.”
Pope Francis himself never tires of saying: “God is love and he is never tired of forgiving, we get tired of asking his forgiveness.” Recall also his comparison of the Church to “a casualty field hospital in a battle field,” where the stress should be to save the dying, not checking cholesterol, not wasting time on doctrinal nuances but taking the prodigal in to celebrate.
What to Expect from Synod?
Johan Bonny is Bishop of Antwerp, Belgium. In a recent research article he tried to answer the question: What do you expect from this synod for the Family of Man? The last part of his article deals precisely with Table Fellowship of Jesus. He sees Church as a home and school of communion. Today it is thrown into discord and disarray because of the conflict created by Humanae Vitae between collegiality and Papacy. Humanae vitae manifestly relegated conscience to the background on questions of church teaching on relationships, sexuality, marriage and family planning. Not permitting conscience to play its due role is the lacunae that do injustice to the comprehensiveness of catholic thought. “What do I expect from the coming synod?” asks the bishop and answers: Conscience must be restored to its rightful place in the teaching of the Church in line with Gaudium et spes. ‘Agreed’, say traditionalists, we permit greater pastoral flexibility but Church doctrine (indissolubility) should not be touched. Such antithesis between pastoral care and doctrine is inappropriate, say progressives. Pastoral care has everything to do with doctrine and doctrine everything to do with pastoral care. How to untie this knot?
He explains: “Behind every ‘ordinary’ family life there is always an ‘extraordinary’ story.” Also: “Regular and irregular situations occur in the majority of Christian families” To cure or rectify an irregular situation, an irregular remedy may be needed. Learn from Jesus how he applied it and asks: “What kind of people did Jesus mix with and in what way? .....They were close to people; welcomed the lost and the condemned back into the centre of the circle; they called for compassion and forgiveness; they rejected every use of power and violence; they preferred to take the last place and they believed in the power of love, a love that does not count on reward. It drew admiration from many, also joy of many, and to the growing irritation of others. Jesus did not give the community around him an exclusive character. He approached and assembled people around him in several circles. He permitted many nuances between the inner and the outer circle. To use Jesus’ own imagery: sometimes he was a sower, sometimes a shepherd, sometimes a host. This concentric structure is part of the architecture of the Church as Jesus intended its construction. I hope that the Synod will do sufficient justice to this architecture......
“People who are divorced and remarried also need the Eucharist to grow in union with Christ and the Church community, and to assume their responsibility as Christians in the new situation. It is not without reason that the final common prayers before communion are: ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us’ and ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed’.”
Jesus& Table Fellowship
He then goes into a final flourish: “The Gospel contains so many words and gestures that the Church claims – since the time of the Church Fathers – also have Eucharistic significance. The said words and gestures refer to table communion in the kingdom of God. In order to understand the Eucharist correctly, we have to bear in mind that a large company of publicans and sinners were at table with Jesus (Lk5,27-30); that Jesus chose this context to say that he had not come for the righteous but for sinners (Lk 5,31-32); that all those who had come from far and near to listen to the word of Jesus were given bread to eat by Jesus and the apostles (Lk 9,10-17); that when you give a banquet you should especially invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (Lk 14,12-14); that the compassionate father gave the best banquet possible for his prodigal son, to the irritation of his older brother (Lk 15,11-32); that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, Peter and Judas included, before the Last Supper, and charged them to follow his example whenever they remembered him (Jn 13,14-17).
“It is not my intention to use these references as slogans, but I remain convinced that we cannot set them aside and ignore them. There has to be a correlation between the many ‘table-related’ words and gestures of Jesus and his intention for the Eucharist. If Jesus exhibited such openness and compassion around the table community in the kingdom of God, then I am convinced that the Church has serious indications to explore how it can grant access to the Eucharist under certain circumstances to people who are divorced and remarried.”
In spite of this mouthful of sweet nectar lavishly poured out, a bunch of celibates may still decide not to budge one bit from blocking access of Jesus to the spiritual outcasts. But then what on earth can they do to block Jesus who said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst?” To my ignorant intellect nothing on earth, not even the might and splendour of a Roman Empire can block the path of the Nazarene marching to a celebration of table fellowship with publicans and prodigals who really yearn for His Company.
Writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org