Monday, October 20, 2014

Of Synods, Sinners, and Saints

"The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization":
The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops 2014
The Pharisees and the Herodians join forces in trying to skewer Jesus on the horns of a dilemma, hoping to cause a schism among his followers.  But what if this is the story line not only of a recent Sunday Gospel (Mt 22:15-21), but also of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family?

Might we imagine the following variation on the passage noted above:

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap the Synod Fathers in speech.
They sent their disciples to them, with the Herodians, saying,
"...Is it lawful to reach out to those in 'irregular' family situations or not?"

A simple "Yes" to this question would worry those who are concerned about truth:  Will the Church be faithful to her mission of safeguarding God's unchangeable teachings?  A blunt "No" to this question would worry those who are concerned about mercy:  Will the Church be faithful to her mission of offering God's universal gift of salvation to the world?

In the Gospel account noted above, of course, the Pharisees ostensibly care about observing the letter of the law, and they resent that Jesus invites sinners and tax collectors to a new life.  As collaborators with the Romans, the Herodians are concerned about making accommodations with the worldly powers-that-be, and they resent that Jesus brings a counter-cultural vision of the human person to those whose hearts are yearning for something more.

Both groups resent that Jesus holds truth and mercy together.  When Jesus says, "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10), he in unafraid of calling "the lost" lost, even as he seeks them out and offers them a fresh start.  Thus Jesus reveals that presenting the truth without mercy is not truthful, just as offering mercy without the truth is not merciful. 

So in response to the horns of the modern-day dilemma, we might envision the following continuation of our imaginary exchange:  

Knowing their malice, the Synod Fathers said:
"Show us the 'irregular' families of today...
Whose image is on them and whose inscription?" 

They replied, "the world's."
At that the Synod Fathers said to them,
"Then repay to the world what belongs to the world..."

The Synod on the family began with input regarding the challenges families face not to change the Church's core teachings so they more closely reflect the world.  Rather, the pastoral concern was to figure out how to help families become the better-versions-of-themselves they long to be--in order to transform the world.  Following Jesus himself, the Synod Fathers are inviting people of our time to a deeper vision of human flourishing, one rooted in God's vision for marriage and the family "from the beginning..." (Mt 19:4).

This does not mean that the Church should separate itself from those whose current relationships do not meet canonical standards; nor does it mean that the Church should stop inviting people to see the deeper truths of marriage and the family which are made possible by the gift of God's grace.  For the realities of marriage and family belong not to the world but to God:

"...and give to God what is God's."

What is God's?  Our hearts and minds, our souls and bodies.  Our hopes and dreams, our pain and suffering.  Our masculinity and our femininity, our desires and our orientations.  Our parents and our children, our spouses and our siblings.

After all, the Risen Lord Jesus sends his Church to meet people where they are in order to accompany them on the journey to where our heavenly Father wants us to be.  In and through his Church, Christ sends his Spirit to heal all of our "irregularities" in order to make us all holy--including the Pharisees and Herodians. 

This is the deeper "Yes" which alone can disarm the divisive dilemma posed above and sustain unity in the face of potential schism.  After all, Synods are about helping sinners become saints.

Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, pray for us--

P.S.  Click here to check out Pope Francis' Homily on the beatification of Pope Paul VI--timed at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in honor of Bl. Paul VI's prophetic witness regarding the transmission of human life in and through the family.