The Synod on the Family has begun in Rome. After a vigil on Saturday evening, the Pope celebrated Mass yesterday, and this morning the first plenary session began with an invocation of the Holy Spirit. We must keep the proceedings in our prayers.
As expected there has been a great deal of coverage by the media. I was watching the Irish media and the BBC to see what they would say. They rehashed the usual commentary on Pope Francis, selectively quoted from his homily and tweaked what he said in order to give viewers/listeners the impression that he is going to use this Synod to change Church teaching on same sex marriage, contraception, divorce etc. So the narrative has been laid out. We must be very careful when it comes to media reports. At this stage my attitude to the mainstream media is a hermeneutic of suspicion; not always because journalists are being mischievous or malicious in their reporting, but because a lot of the time they are just ignorant of the Church, her teachings, her systems and her intentions, So take care. Rely on Catholic media, but then again be careful there too.
The Synod is a wonderful opportunity for the Church to look again at her mission to the family, and to iterate the importance of marriage and the family in the Church. There is so much for the Council Fathers to draw upon as they seek to find new ways of proclaiming the Gospel to the family while reflecting on challenges to marriage and family life. This is the first Synod on these themes since St John Paul developed his theology of the body, and that holds many treasures which should really be explored in the deliberations. I know Pope Francis has said that the Synod is not to be the place for rarefied theologising (my phrase), but theology cannot be excluded since its purpose is to understand in a deeper way what our faith is and help us to live it in our time.
The Pope has said that the Synod must seek to do what God wants, so that means human expectations must be grounded in Christ's teaching, and if the synod wishes to be faithful to Christ then the expected abandoning of Christian teaching on marriage should not be on the agenda. That said, listening to the media and commentators I fear unchristian expectations are growing and being nurtured.
Of course we shouldn't be surprised at this. There is little doubt that marriage and the family is now the front-line in the war between the secular world and Christianity. Marriage and family life are ultimately a threat to the progress of the secularist agenda. As the domestic Church, as the place where values are passed on, ideologues have always tried to demolish the family so to form the next generation themselves. The Church has always resisted this and its main form of opposition was to nurture good Christian marriage - virtuous parents who raised their children in love and virtue. This sticks in the throat of ideologues for whom the exclusive nature of the family not only offends their permissive agenda but serves as a wall, a filter, through which their ideas must fight to penetrate.
I do believe this Synod has become a trophy for the secularists within the Church, for many of them it is their last chance to force through their agenda as old age is catching up with them. They have managed to create enormous expectations and I fear that we may well be facing a repeat of 1968 with similar results. As with Pope Paul VI on contraception, Francis cannot jettison Christ's teaching to satisfy those who no longer want to live it; even if he wants to do it for mercy's sake, as some maintain, he will be prevented, not by conservative cardinals as some liberals have suggested, but by God himself who made the law and proclaimed it in the Gospel. Like the tenants in the vineyard in yesterday's Gospel - we have no right to usurp what is not ours: it is God's Church, his law, his Gospel, his way not ours. Re-imagining a more liberal, permissive Jesus who renounces his own moral teachings in order to fit in with an unbelieving generation is an exercise in fantasy, one which will ultimately lead to disappointment and, even worse, misleading souls.
I am heartened by the first reading from the Mass this morning, from St Paul's Letter to the Galatians (1:6-12). I wonder if the Synod Fathers took it as a message for how the Synod should proceed. Here it is for your meditation:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.