Monday, November 2, 2015

A Synod for Sinners, for Jesus, and for Pharisees

In terms of your own "everyday evangelization," what uplifting or challenging talking points caught your ear at the recent Synod on the Family? 

For better or for worse, we've never had as much real-time information regarding how the Church discerns the movement of the Holy Spirit, in light of of both changing historical contexts and unchanging divine revelation. (Can you imagine the ancient Roman media's coverage of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries?!) While we await Pope Francis' final word on the Synod, please consider these brief comments on three different perspectives in relation to your own ongoing reflection:

  • A Synod for Sinners: Anyone who has experienced true mercy knows that it hinges on being forgiven or spared precisely when it is undeserved. Jesus knows our brokenness and need for healing far better than we do, and he reaches out to grab us by the hand, even while we are still sinners ("I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" [Mk 2:17]. Yet he also knows that the "I'm OK, you're OK approach" to life is neither truthful nor merciful. The Lord does not walk the earth in order to reassure the forsaken that being abandoned is just fine; rather, he lets himself be nailed to a tree out of solidarity with those who are lost, thereby transforming us into adopted sons and daughters. Truth and Mercy stretch out their arms together to embrace the whole world, although the Savior is humble enough to allow us sinners the freedom to accept or reject the gift.

  • A Synod for Jesus: For the Church not to teach what Jesus himself has revealed would be to contradict her divine mission; it would be tantamount to treason, akin to the treachery of Judas, selling out the Lord once again. After all, Jesus shocks the disciples by teaching about marriage from the perspective of our original innocence, beginning with the beginning in mind ("Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" [Mt 19:8]). He bewilders them by both praising and counter-culturally modelling a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12), even as he invites them to open their hearts God's beautiful vision of marriage. From the perspective of self-giving love, renouncing one good for the sake of an even greater good helps give witness to the proper ordering of human life.

    Jesus embodies merciful love ("I will not reject anyone who comes to me..." [Jn 6:37]), but he does so by fulfilling not abolishing the law. Indeed, when the rich young man asks what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus affirms the commandments--even the prohibition against adultery. And yet, before telling the young man that he still lacks one thing, the gospel tells us that "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mk 10:21)! Like this young man, many people may initially walk away even in the face of Love made flesh, perhaps because they feel the demands too extreme. But Jesus excludes no one and continues to invite us all to realize that God's grace alone makes holiness possible ("for God all things are possible" [Mt 19:26]). Maybe a more merciful approach toward marriage would help all those involved understand the ways that a sacramental bond differs from a civil union, and thus how a sacramental bond might not be present even though it is a valid civil marriage (hence the Church's responsibility to recognize it as "annulled", in line with Jesus' parenthetical comment in Mt 19:9).

  • A Synod for Pharisees: Rather than just ignoring the Lord, the Pharisees seek to silence the teaching of Jesus in at least two different ways. The first is through a rigorous legalism, which needs no Savior and so fails to realize that--from the beginning--the Sabbath is made for man. The second is through a spiritual worldliness whose complicity with pagan culture hides itself under a facade of religiosity--including acceptance of divorce practices of the day. Pharisees of both sorts are more than comfortable with their own self-enclosed world views, and Jesus afflicts them all, even as he comforts the afflicted (D. Day). This Synod seems to challenge anyone who is tempted to wag a finger at others, as well as anyone who wants too comfortable a compromise with worldly standards.

Perhaps the recent Synod gives us a glimpse into a global family discussion about challenges and needs of our time, in order to serve as a model for our own parish and family discussions.  As long as the dialogue is actually honest and open--that is, ordered to embracing the truth--such discussions should bring us closer both to Christ and to one another.

After all, if we stay open to the Spirit, rooted both in God's revelation in Jesus and in the real need for healing which we all experience, how can we go wrong?!

Grace and Peace,

P.S. There's still plenty of time to subscribe to read Pope Francis' environmental encyclical one-day-at-a-time: Click here to Lean into Laudato Si' :)