The dust has now settled a bit after the tumultuous Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Viewed from afar, the two-week meeting of bishops was filled with fascinating stories, from allegations of internal intrigue to the emergence of the African bishops as major players in the universal Church. Western news sources, of course, fixated on their favorite issues — homosexual and divorced couples — and treated the deliberative assembly as if it were an American political convention (or a mixed-martial arts match).
Since the issue at hand — the health and care of the family — is so important to me, I thought it would be worth adding a few reflections of my own about what has happened.
The first thing I would note is that I have virtually no interest in the internal politics of the Vatican and the episcopacy, and I think it’s probably unhealthy for people to focus on such things. I’ve had a limited view into the engine room of the barque of Peter for 20 years now (to use Ronald Knox’s phrase), and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that fretting about all these kinds of things accomplishes nothing for the state of my soul or to advance the Kingdom of God.
Of course, it’s still frustrating to watch the internal operations of the Church in action. But I just don’t see that I can do anything worthwhile about it, beyond praying that the bishops and the Holy See (particularly the press office) someday become acquainted with the notion of message discipline.
As far as the substance of the Synod, it seems clear to me that the Holy Father has a pastoral agenda that he intends to implement to lead the Church. It’s laid out in the Aparecida document (issued by the Latin American bishops in 2007, which the Holy Father helped write when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires) and his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. It’s a renewed focus on evangelization and outreach, particularly to those who are marginalized and alienated, with an emphasis on the basic proclamation of the Gospel as a source of meaning and hope. The bishops as a body are generally on board with that agenda.
In the context of the specific topic of the Extraordinary Synod, I think that it may prove to be a significant turning point for Church, and that it will help the bishops to focus on responding to the real problems with the family and marriage. Instead of getting bogged down on the “hot topics” that the Western media is obsessed with, I hope that the bishops will now be able to recognize the real crisis in marriage — under the baneful influence of moral relativism and gender and sexual liberation ideology, as well as the sinful human tendency to hedonism, society has lost a notion of the importance of authentic marriage, and why it should be encouraged and supported. I don’t know what the pastoral strategy will ultimately be in response to this, or how the bishops will respond to the special cases of divorced people, or those living in same-sex relationships. But if they can keep their eye on the ball of how to preach the truth about marriage, and work to strengthen actual marriages, I think they’ll be on the right track.
So for me, the challenge is to prayerfully assent to the will of the Church, as expressed by Her hierarchy, to be obedient to my superiors, and not to be too distracted by speculation and second-guessing. Psalm 131 is wonderfully consoling to me in this regard. In the meantime, I have to continue the apostolic work that God has given me, and strive to develop the virtues necessary for that work, trusting that God’s providence is somehow guiding it, and guiding the Church as a whole.