|Bishop Philip Egan|
What is a Synod?
An "Ecumenical Council" means a 'gathering of all', in order to discuss and decide about important matters. Ecumenical Councils are rare. A synod is a smaller gathering of bishops, such as bishops across a region or a province.
In preparation for a synod, the synod's secretariat sends out a scoping document for dioceses. The responses are sent back to Rome; and from those responses the secretariat draws up an Instrumentum Laboris, a 'working document'.
A synod is an advisory body. The Pope participates in the synod, and following the synod he issues an Apostolic Exhortation in response to the synod.
The synod on the family to be held in Rome in October is an Extraordinary Synod. The last Extraordinary Synod was in 1987 on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This year's Extraordinary Synod is also unusual, in two ways:
1) it will be followed by an Ordinary Synod next year. The Apostolic Exhortation will be the Instrumentum Laboris for the next year’s synod
2) The 39 pre-synod questions were circulated widely throughout the Church so as to put forward concerns.
Why the family?
Pope Francis announced the synod on the family at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio. The Pope said that today many young people do not want to get married. Also, people get married lacking maturity. This is where pastoral care needs to comes in. The pastoral care of the family is very complicated, including issues such as annulments, divorce, and access to Holy Communion. Pope Francis said the family is in crisis worldwide. The topic needs two synods to give an adequate treatment.
Instrumentum Laboris, to me, is a remarkable document. It unambiguously restates Catholic teaching on the main family issues. At the same time, it emphasises God’s mercy and the need to spread it; highlights the lack of faith and lack of sufficient catechesis. The beginning deals with the Gospel of the Family, which is the term I especially like. The crisis of faith leads to a crisis of relationships and families. The Instrumentum Laboris ends with the prayer of the Holy Family.
In summary the Instrumentum Laboris deals with:
- how to communicate Church’s teaching more effectively?
- how to support those in need more mercifully?
- how to support families in teaching about openness to life?
In Britain the crisis of the family is bound to the crisis of the faith. Secularism separates Church and State. The result is moral relativism. Nothing is solid.
It is no secret that many progressive Catholics look forward to changes in Church’s teaching and doctrine from the Synod. In contrast, Blessed John Henry Newman taught that Christian teaching tends to develop organically, like an acorn, with continuity. Doctrine develops rather than changes. Developments in doctrine must be consistent.
In history the Church has experienced major controversies. Today’s issue is the anthropology of a human being: what it means to created, fallen and then redeemed. The Sensus Fidei is the belief that the Holy Spirit endows each member of the Church, each baptised Christian, with an instinct to live in truth. Some members of the Church do not understand the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. Should the doctrine then be changed?
Bl. John Henry Newman taught observed that it has been the ordinary faithful who have passed on the Church's doctrine. Like others in the Church, the faithful should be consulted, not in a democratic way, but rather as a thermometer to check the weather. It is the doctrine that Christ wills for His Church. The doctrine is not always the balanced view, but it is the truth.
My personal hopes for the Synod:
1) A fresh, attractive, easy-to-understand idea of the Gospel of the Family. I would wish that the Synod requests from the Pope a presentation of the Christian understanding of birth, sex, death, male, and female. This would greatly assist religious education in our schools. I am actively considering appointing a couple in every parish as a ministry for marriage.
2) That the Synod will find a better way how to spread mercy for those in difficulties and irregular situations. Pope Benedict suggested we need a further study on the relation of faith and the Sacrament of Matrimony. Many people fall away from the Catholic Church because they fail to form a personal relationship with Christ.
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