Sunday, October 12, 2014

Synod 14: What I Expect, and What I Don't

(From John Hart Studios, used w/o permission.)

This post is not about global warming, the coming ice age, or manure burying London. Don't laugh: in 1894 the Times of London ran a warning that London would be under nine feet of manure by 1944. (July 9, 2011)

Wikipedia has a list of fizzled apocalypses, from 634 BC to 2013 AD; and that's another topic. Topics. (February 25, 2014; November 29, 2013)

Synod 14, an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops, is in progress. It's running from the 5th to the 19th of this month.

In this post, I'll be looking at what I expect from Synod 14; what I don't expect; and why I'm not upset that Synod 14 probably won't address the annual collision of Mother's Day and fishing season in Minnesota.

Walleyes, Mother's Day, and 15 Minutes of Fame

I gather that a Cardinal got his 15 minutes of fame from a sound bite about feelings. What he said may have been taken out of context.

In any case: he's one cardinal, from one country, attending a meeting of an outfit that's catholic, καθολικός, universal.

Sometimes individual nations get special attention, like when the pope thanked Jordanian authorities and people for helping refugees from Syria and Iraq. He also urged "...the international community not to leave Jordan, who is so welcoming and so courageous, alone in the task of meeting the humanitarian emergency...." (May 24, 2014)

So, why doesn't the Church 'do something' about the problem? For one thing, the Pope can't force anyone to be nice. For another: we're already there, and have been for some time, with organizations like Caritas Jordan.

Getting back to the synod, and how we get things done — the Catholic Church is hierarchical and authoritarian: which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Besides, the Pope isn't the boss. He's just a vicar, with limited authority, standing in while my Lord is away, and I've been over this before. (February 19, 2009)

The Church has principles that apply to everyone, but we're not forced into one cultural mold. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1204-1206, 1686, 1935, 2524)

That irks folks who seem convinced that everybody should behave exactly the way 'decent' people did in the 'good old days:' as they remember them. And that's yet another topic.
Minnesota's 'Mother's Day Crisis'
Mother's Day is May 10 next year. As usual, it's the same day that Minnesota's walleye, sauger, northern pike, stream trout in lakes, smallmouth bass, and assorted other subdivisions of fishing season open.

Some wives and mothers are avid anglers, others see no problem with not having their husbands underfoot that day: but some probably resent the coincidence.

Neither my wife or I fish, so it's not an issue in our household. But I can imagine a married couple being torn between the fishing season opener and Mother's Day each year.

I have a bit more trouble imagining someone being upset because of the Catholic Church's silence on Minnesota's 'Mother's Day crisis.'

I'll be surprised, though, if someone doesn't get attention by being upset over the Church's refusal to rewrite at least part of the Decalogue.

The points of contention will probably include same-sex marriage and the 'right' of partners to cheat on their spouse. Oddly enough, the 'right' of someone to marry a goldfish may not receive quite so much attention.

If you're bracing yourself for a screed against 'those sinners over there,' relax: I'm Catholic. I'm not allowed to hate anybody. It's against the rules.

The Rules: Simple, not Easy

The rules are very simple. We're supposed to love God, and love our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31)

We're also supposed to see everybody as our neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:43-44; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-30; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)

As I've said before, love isn't approval.

Sometimes the 'friends don't let friends drive drunk' principle applies, and love demands disapproval. Even if the drunk friend really wants to drive. (June 28, 2011; April 26, 2011)

I think part of the explanation for the Vatican's office library having about 85 kilometers of shelving is that for two millennia now, folks have been trying to weasel out of those simple rules. And that's yet again another topic. (June 3, 2012)

"Mixed Marriages:" It's Not what You May Think

Marriage is very important for Catholics who understand our faith. (Catechism, 1601-1658)

It's a sacrament and a vocation. (Catechism, 1601, 1603)

That reminds me — you may read about Synod 14's position on "mixed marriages." It's not what you may think. We're not supposed to be shocked and horrified when the daughter of a 'nice' family wants to marry an Irishman; or the family's son has his eye on a Pinay.

In this context, a "mixed marriage" is a "marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic." (Catechism, 1633)

My wife and I had a "mixed marriage" until I became a Catholic. We still have a "mixed marriage" in the ethnic sense: she's German/Dutch, and I'm Norwegian/Irish/Scots-Irish.

Not very many generations back, one of my foremothers said, "he doesn't have family: he's Irish." The daughter of a decent family married the Irishman anyway. (July 6, 2014)

What Not to Expect

(From, used w/o permission.)

I'm quite confident that some folks will be upset about what Synod 14 finally decides.

Those who think Ephesians 5:22 defines wives as household servants may denounce the synod for being too liberal. Others, who want the Church to redefine marriage as 'whatever I like,' will get opportunities to say that the synod is too conservative.

I've run into some 'Catholic' families where the husband goes to work, ignores the kids, and takes his wife for granted; while his wife stays home, watching soap operas: but it's not how we're supposed to live.

Proverbs 31:10-31 defines "a worthy wife," and she bears little resemblance to the fluffy 1950s stereotype:
"She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."
(Proverbs 31:16)
The Catholic Church can't rewrite the Decalogue, or anything else in the deposit of faith. I've talked about the Bible, Sacred Scripture; Tradition; and the Magisterium; before. (October 2, 2008)
"The apostles entrusted the 'Sacred deposit' of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church....

" 'The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.'47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

" 'Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it....' "
(Catechism, 84-86) [Emphasis mine]

Same Mission, New Techniques

Synod 14 is not, I am quite sure, discussing whether to replace the deposit of faith with whatever is fashionable in lower Manhattan, Botswana, or anywhere else. We don't operate that way.

Our standing orders, as outlined in Matthew 28:19-20, haven't changed in two millennia.

What changes is how we present the "Sacred deposit" of the faith. Techniques that worked in first-century Rome were a thousand years out of date by the time my Viking ancestors stopped pillaging my Celtic ancestors.

And what worked in 11th century Europe is a thousand years out of date today. The Catholic Church is old, ancient. But we are not futilely trying to drag humanity back to an imaginary 'good old days.'

We're doing what we've been doing for two millennia: showing, to the best of our abilities, that loving God, loving our neighbor, and seeing everyone as our neighbor, is a good idea.

As the centuries rolled by, some of us did well: others, not so much. We're still cleaning up messes left by the likes of Karl der Große. I trust that Charlemagne meant well: and that's — another topic. (May 18, 2014)

Part of Synod 14's job, as far as I can tell, is deciding how we can best share the truth with folks in the 21st century:
"...The challenge for this synod is to try to bring back to today's world, which in some way resembles that of the early days of the Church, the attractiveness of the Christian message about marriage and the family, highlighting the joy which they give...."
("Synod14 - First General Congregation: 'Relatio ante disceptationem' of the General Rapporteur, Card. Péter Erdő," (October 6, 2014)[Original text: Italian. This is an unofficial translation])
I put links to background documents and articles from the Vatican Information Service and Vatican Radio at the end of this post, along with excerpts from some of the articles: and a longer excerpt from that unofficial translation.

More of my posts, mostly about:

Excerpt from an unofficial translation from the First General Congregation (October 6, 2014):

"If we look at the origins of Christianity, we see how it has managed — despite rejection and cultural diversity — to be accepted and welcomed for the depth and intrinsic force of its message. Indeed, Christian revelation has manifested the dignity of the person, not to mention love, sexuality and the family.

"The challenge for this synod is to try to bring back to today's world, which in some way resembles that of the early days of the Church, the attractiveness of the Christian message about marriage and the family, highlighting the joy which they give, but, at the same time, respond, in a true and charitable way (cf. Eph 4:15), to the many problems which have a special impact on the family today and emphasizing that true moral freedom does not consists in doing what one feels or living only by one's feelings but is realized only in acquiring the true good.

"In a real way, we are called upon, above all, to put ourselves alongside our sisters and our brothers in the spirit of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10: 25-37): being attentive to their lives and being especially close to those who have been 'wounded' by life and expect a word of hope, which we know only Christ can give us (cf. Jn 6:68).

"The world needs Christ. The world needs us too, because we belong to Christ."
("Synod14 - First General Congregation: 'Relatio ante disceptationem' of the General Rapporteur, Card. Péter Erdő," (October 6, 2014)[Original text: Italian. This is an unofficial translation][Links added.])
In the news:
Excerpts from the news:
"Synod concludes first phase of debate on family life"
Vatican Radio, via News. va (October 10, 2014)

"...Supporting children of separated families, reaching out to the widowed and lonely, and accompanying couples searching for reconciliation and healing in their lives. Those are some of the practical questions being discussed in the Synod Hall by participants who’ve come from all corners of the globe to share their perspectives on the problems facing family life today. Central to these debates are the very real experiences of men and women serving as experts and auditors. People like Jocelyne Khoueiry, a former leader of a female Christian militia group during Lebanon’s civil war and founder of an organisation for lay women in her country.

" 'We fought in the past,' she said, 'to protect our sovereignty and our country but now we're fighting to rebuild our culture and our identity, based on the values and principles that we have always dreamed of.'

"Those values include the central role of the family as the foundation of society. But how can the Church also reach out to men and women whose marriages have broken down? How can it help children of separated families, learning to deal with new parental figures in their lives? For the first time today I also heard how the Church needs to be more attentive to those who are widowed, a condition that will effect one member of every couple at some point in their lives.

"Another hot button issue that emerged from the questionnaires ahead of this Synod was family planning and the very high numbers of Catholics who ignore the Church's ban on artificial methods of contraception. Alice and Jeffrey Heinzen urged couples to look again at the advantages of natural methods of fertility regulation, which they say can now prove up to 99% effective, if they are properly understood and practised...."

"Synod: the Church, a place for families in crisis"
Vatican Radio, via (October 9, 2014)

"What can the Church do to accompany families in difficult pastoral situations such as the separated, divorced or divorced and remarried, single parents, teen mothers, children from broken homes? What is the Churches pastoral outreach concerning unions of persons of the same sex? These were the topics of discussion in the 8th General Congregation of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on 'The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization'.

"The Wednesday afternoon session was led by the President Delegate on duty, Card. Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida (Brazil). He warned against a shortsighted legalistic approach stating that the Church wants to fathom the depths of these difficult situations in order to welcome all of those involved so that it may be a paternal home where there is a place for everyone with his or her life's difficulties.

"The discussion was introduced by the testimony of auditors Stephen and Sandra Conway, from South Africa. They are regional Retrouvailles leaders for Africa, an organization that helps marriages in crisis.

"They told participants that 'financial difficulties, infidelity and family of origin issues are common problems'. However they also pointed to a predominant 'singles married lifestyle' which begins innocently but over time drives a wedge between the couple....

"...The couple also spoke of requests from same sex unions or couples to take part in their counselling course.

"Testimonies from married couples have introduced each session of debate at the Synod. To date a common factor running through these presentations but which has received little or no media coverage is children. Passing on the faith to children, the effects of family breakdown on children, children from mixed marriages, abandoned children, the inability to have children...."


Victor S E Moubarak said...

So we have Synod 14, implying there have been 13 others already and no doubt many more to come.

The thing is: how does this affect the congregation at my church, or yours, or any other church? Does Mrs Murgatroid who always sits upfront in church know what happened in Synod 13 or any other? Does Mr Archibold who takes the Sunday collection really cares about how many Synods we've had and what they do or did? Do any Catholics in my or any other church really understand what is going on and how it affects them; if indeed it does affect them?

Shouldn't the church and its "shepherds" concentrate more on leading their sheep and lambs to Heaven rather than meet every so often over cups of tea and biscuits, (is that what they have in Synods?), and then pontificate on matters the laity does not understand?

How many Synods did Christ attend?

God bless you.

Brian Gill said...

I did a little quick math, and found that - on average - we've had a synod every 143 years. 142 and a sizable fraction, actually.

In a sense, the Synods - this one included - don't affect parish life. At least, not in a fundamental way. The Decalogue still has 10 points, there are still three persons in the Trinity, and the top commandment(s) are still 'love God, love my neighbor, see everybody as my neighbor.

On the other hand, my understanding is that these Synods keep the Church from acting as if it is still the 1st, 11th, or whatever, century.

In the millennia since we got started, the Roman Empire dissolved, Europeans rediscovered the ancient world, and the center of growth has - if I recall correctly - shifted from barbarian lands north or the Roman Empire to parts of Africa and Asia.

Western civilization, at least, has changed a great deal in the half-century or so that I've been paying attention. Some of the changes are, I think, long-overdue reforms; some are not turning out as I had hoped.

The '50s sitcom suburban family and its real-life counterparts no longer exist, except in reruns of shows like Leave It To Beaver. Some of what the current Synod is discussing is how the Church should deal with today's realities.

I am reasonably confident that folks who yearn for the 'good old days' will be appalled that we're not going back.

I'm also reasonably confident that folks who yearn for legalized trans-species marriage, or other daft changes, will be affronted that the Pope won't let them marry their dachshund - or pillow - or whatever.

But I am very confident that the Church will continue to deal with folks where we are - in today's world - and that two millennia from now we'll have had a dozen or so more Synods.

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