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Synod Seeks to be Beacon in Troubled Waters

By JENNIFER MANNING  / Catholic Womanhood

This year my 11th grade Morality students are reading Making Choices: Practical Wisdom for Everyday Moral Decisions by Peter Kreeft. The opening paragraph of the book reads, in part, “…our civilization is dying because its fundamental foundation and building block, the family, is dying.”

At first many of the students balked at this assertion and rose quickly to the defense of our civilization and society as we know it. But as the conversation continued, the class took on a more somber tone as more and more examples were raised that underscore Kreeft’s larger point.  Broken families, adulterous relationships, lack of quality time spent, cohabitation, and the "hook-up culture" were just a few of the examples mentioned.
Pope Francis called the ongoing Extraordinary Synod for this very reason—the family is facing unique, unparalleled challenges and the Church, as a prophetic voice and as a shepherd and guide, has a moral responsibility to respond to these challenges and to equip bishops and pastors to guide their parish families through these troubling times.

Earlier this week, a midterm report or relatio was shared with the world, and the news cycle has been dominated by controversy on all sides. The mainstream secular media is proclaiming that the Church has changed its teachings on homosexuality and divorce, some Catholics are ecstatically rejoicing that the Church has changed its “tone” on these issues, and some Catholics are defensively voicing concern over the content of the report itself.  So what does this report actually say?

I read the working document released earlier this week as a grateful daughter of the Church; the bishops are clearing laboring to bring  to light the real and true issues facing the family today.  And they have done so not in the hellfire and brimstone manner that those unfamiliar with the Catholic Church have come to expect, but rather in the merciful, “Francis-effect” kind of tone.
This merciful tone comes to us not from the world, but from Christ himself.  I choose to open my class each year by reading the story of the woman caught in adultery—for it is here, in this Gospel account, that Christ teaches us how to act toward one another. Not condemnatory, as the Pharisees were, but merciful.  Christ loved the woman—he did not condemn her—but he did command her to “go forth and sin no more.”  So when the Bishops explain, as they do in the Relatio, that “The Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings,” they are in effect doing exactly what Christ had lived through example.  The Bishops are not altering doctrine (they can’t) nor are they championing cohabitation and divorce.  Rather, they are trying to walk with people, helping thm to see the good, and in their own lives, and better understand what the Church teaches and why and what it is that God is saying to them about His will for their lives. We are called to love one another. This is a key mandate from which the synod is working to renew family life.

Love, of course, involves honesty. This is why the Church cannot backpedal on doctrine or teachings that are founded in objective moral truth.  But the Church can do it with mercy.  In Part 1 of Monday's relatio, in the paragraph “Pastoral Challenges,” we read “It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being…to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church…this requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy.” The Church must function “like the light of a beacon in a port,” and not like a lighthouse keeper who decides that the ship is never coming home, so may as well turn out the light and go to bed.

We are the Church.  In Part III of the Relatio, we read that “without the joyous testimony of spouses and families, the announcement [of the Gospel], even if correct, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words that is a characteristic of our society.”   We are called to be beacons of light in the world.  Oh, that we would have the courage to shine the light of hope and mercy in the midst of today’s troubled waters!

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