Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Extraordinary Synod

No homily this week (transitional deacon was preaching). But instead....

I am sure that by now you have heard about the Extraordinary Synod that had been going on in Rome during the past two weeks. It concluded today (Sunday) with a Mass to beatify Pope Paul VI, the Pope who had helped the Church during the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council. (Being “beatified” is the level before being “canonized”—that is, being declared a Saint).

At any rate, the Extraordinary Synod—the first one of its kind since 1985 (that one set the foundation for the Catechism of the Catholic Church which would be promulgated seven years later in 1992)—was called by Pope Francis to address the current state of marriage and family and, given whichever media outlet you listen, to change Church practice and, more, her doctrine. When the “halftime report” of this Synod was “put online” for mass consumption, there was at one and the same time jubilation and a lot of hyperventilating—both reactions coming from hearts and minds that believed that the Church would—and indeed, could—change.

There was also that usual modern arrogance that declared that this was the “first time there had been such division in the Church!—and at Her highest levels!” That arrogance, however, was clearly blind to St. Nicholas and the Arian heresy. (St. Nicholas—that candy-cane-toting saint that modern commercialism has painted him out to be—punched Arius in the face for the heresy which Arius was proclaiming and which had deceived over half—half!—of the Church’s bishops). So, when the media reported that winds of doctrinal change were blowing and that bishops and cardinals and even the Pope—that big softy, Pope Francis—were all fighting, I yawned and responded to one member of my flock: “Tell me when Burke punches Kasper in the face, then I might grow concerned.”

As the Extraordinary Synod closes today, and as confusion is seemingly renewed among faithful and unfaithful alike, I have come to the conclusion that I really pity those who listen to the media as the source for where the Church is going. On the one hand, I feel bad for those who got all worked up about whether or not their beloved Church was succumbing to the winds of change. Distracted by all the huffing and puffing (and, admittedly, the incoherence, ignorance, and downright sinfulness of a few leaders of the Church), many of the faithful forgot the words of Jesus Himself: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” I would have us all hear that again. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” So what Jesus says about His Church and about Marriage will never change—even when heaven and earth do. Strange, thinking that marriage is more permanent. So, to those who were hyperventilating: get a good night sleep tonight.

At the same time, I feel bad for those who are wanting to be in the Church but who hope for her to change her teaching so that they can feel more welcome (read: not have to submit uncomfortable realities to objective judgment). I feel bad for them because, when they follow the media reports, they get all of their hopes worked up, only to have them crushed by reports like those from today that announce, with particular surprise (… still?) that “The Church hasn’t changed.” But there will be another meeting next year, we are reminded, so hold out: there is still another chance and the Church might just change then. This prolongation of a desire that will never be fulfilled is really rather cruel of the media. After all, of the 265 speeches that were given during the Synod, only 2 dealt with same-sex unions. Two. But what did everyone talk about?

Yes, the “halftime report” did insert a couple paragraphs on the matter—disproportionate to what was actually discussed in the meeting rooms—giving an already-antsy press the green-light to publish what might seem plausible. This report, published on the initiative of one who shall remain un-named in my post here, was not only dishonest in its portrayal of what was really going on behind the scenes, but also cruel: by muddying the waters of what was otherwise clear Church teaching, hopes were raised only to be crushed again by a media eager to do so.  

[UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had an article today that criticizes the Church for being too generous with granting annulments (read: what about the dignity of marriage?). Turn the page and the SAME PAPER wrote an Editorial that criticizes the Church for not recognizing divorce! Nice.]

We have seen this before. We saw it in 1968 when zealous, progressive-leaning theologians and media outlets promised that the Church was changing her teaching on contraception. We saw it at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) when a less-tech-savvy press (but still tech-savvy enough to get itself in trouble) created a narrative of what was really going on behind the scenes at the Council. This narrative, easily digested by those who did not know enough about what the Church taught and easily reinforced by equally ignorant progressivism, continues today and has really gone mainstream. It is called “The Spirit of Vatican II.” (Ask anyone who has worked in parish ministry and you’ll find someone who has encountered all kinds of false doctrine, morality, and liturgical worship imposed upon the faithful under the reasoning: “The Spirit of Vatican II”). Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church has still to recover from false narratives surrounding that Council-- not to mention the disaster which is contraception.

It is no surprise, then, that shortly after the “halftime report” of the Synod was made public, a whole host of Cardinals and Bishops began publishing reports and making statements of their own, saying: “hey, that was NOT what we talked about!” Knowing their history, many of the Cardinals and Bishops knew that they had to wrest the Truth from the grasp of the confusing—a history not just simply since Vatican II, but a history that echoes since The Garden. They know that Satan oftentimes does not sell us blatant lies. (He is the “subtle one,” remember?) All he needs to do is sow confusion… plausibility… just enough for us to believe that things have changed and what God has said was Gospel is not really Gospel anymore. It worked in the Garden. It still works today.

So, where do we go from here? I think it would do everyone much good to discuss what are the actual causes for hope when it comes to marriage and family. In other words, what is it about the Church’s teaching on marriage and family that is hopeful? This would require that we know the fundamentals here, which requires that the Church communicate even more clearly what it is that She teaches. Plausibility, after all, exists when things are obscure—or occult. So, given that there is so much mud out there about the matter, I am not surprised by what happened these past two weeks. I see this is as a great opportunity to learn (and, in some cases, re-learn) and delve deeper into the mystery—yes, mystery—of marriage and family and to see what the Church teaches and why what She teaches is amazing and beautiful and True.

However, given our society’s propensity to think that clear expressions of objective teachings are unkind and judgmental, this challenge will require a way of expressing such things with affection and love and beauty. Or, in other words, we must be able to answer the question: why is the Church teaching on marriage and family full of hope—even, and especially, for those who are divorced or same-sex-oriented?

And perhaps this is the first marriage to be considered: that of Love and Truth. Love and Truth cannot be divorced.

Of course, we didn’t really need a Synod to tell us that. Pope Benedict pointed this out five years ago. But methinks that as this Synod was going on, Pope Benedict was in the background, doing more by his hidden prayer than by the public hand-waving of those in the spotlight. And this gives me hope. Prayer is more productive than meetings anyway.

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