I am blessed to have several wise and holy priests and bishops in my life. I remember telling one of them my concerns and struggles with understanding what the Magisterium is. What if the pope and the living bishops today in communion with him decided to change Church doctrine? What if they got a majority opinion among the bishops and the pope and the bishops in communion with them said, this is what the Church teaches now, even if it contradicted what the Church has taught from the beginning.
“Let them try,” said one priest.
“It will never happen,” said one bishop.
So, what can we do about it? Surely, we must not fret. But fasting and prayer are definitely in order. And becoming well-informed or should I say well-formed in Catholic teaching is an antidote to any confusion and the key to staying faithful even if some shepherds and theologians fail to keep the faith themselves.
There is a great deal of interesting material to read about concerning the synod on the family that starts this Sunday.
Here are some salient excerpts.
In calling rather vaguely for “a more through examination of human nature and culture” (§8), the ILdoes call also for a Christological analysis of human nature in its familial dimensions: the whole exercise, we are told, is to be conducted with “our gaze … fixed on Christ” (§4). But there is hardly any Christology at all in the document. The real starting point seems rather to be – and this is deeply ironic, given the lament about individualism – an existential one: “People need to be accepted in the concrete circumstances of life” and supported “in their searching” (§35). “The Church’s point of departure is the concrete situation of today’s families” (§68). If there is an “urgent need to embark on a new pastoral course,” that course must be “based on the present reality of weaknesses within the family“ (§106; cf. §81). “Pastoral work … needs to start with listening to people” (§136; cf. §83).
A more uncertain note could hardly be sounded. Which is it to be? Effective confrontation of the crisis facing the family by determined recourse to the Word of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ and proclaimed in Scripture and tradition? Or by listening, “free from prejudice,” to people’s experiences? Well, you say, of course it’s both! But which is the starting point? Which serves as the hermeneutical key to which? Which is the terra firma on which we can grapple with the other? Do we begin with our own strengths and weaknesses or do we begin with the Word of God?
Amen! I say we begin with the Word of God and a true Christological conception of mankind and help people to understand the supernatural power of the sacraments and what has already been given us by grace through our Baptism—we have been given a new nature and have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.
I hope that the Synod does not bog down over a narrow set of questions of primary concern to northern European bishops, who represent local churches that have not fully embraced the New Evangelization. The problems these bishops wrestle with are real; I hope the Synod fraternally challenges those bishops to embrace the truth of the Gospel, rather than the further deconstruction of the faith, as the beginning of a serious pastoral response to their challenges.
I hope the bishops of Africa continue to bear witness at Synod 2015 to their people’s experience of Christian marriage as liberating, and that the African bishops’ determination to be treated as grown-ups, which was clear at Synod 2014, continues in Synod 2015.
I hope that the Synod heeds the oft-repeated caution of Pope Francis and does not produce a final report that reads like the work of an international non-governmental organization—an error, it must be said, that was not avoided in the working document for Synod 2015, the Instrumentum Laboris.
In theory, the closed process was supposed to give the participants space to be candid, without having to worry about how their statements would be reported. But in fact, many participants seemed nervous about just what this “openness” meant. The pope harshly denounced Pharisaism and Jewish legalism, with its 613 points of law, in a homily at a Mass just prior to the Synod, which made it appear to more than a few observers that people who would defend traditional teachings on marriage would somehow ipso facto be considered pharisaical – hardly an inducement to candor at an event where the boss would be present.
One also suspected at the time that the relatively closed process might have also been intended to “control the message.” In practice, this meant that reports had to rely on leaks by high-ranking Church officials to their various favored journalists, which always accompany events in Rome, and which created a tough of war of claims and counterclaims – and little by way of fact or information to control them.
In sum, the worst of both worlds.
Something very similar seems to be in the works this time – perhaps even worse.