Saturday 10 January 2015
The Synod Reflection Document for England & Wales
I have looked over this and don’t know where to begin. I choose to begin by saying that yes, we all meet folk in irregular situations and hopefully, we speak understandingly, gently but clearly in order to guide them with care and compassion to the Truth. Whoever wrote this document for the Bishops presents them as seeing their clergy as having no pastoral insight or compassion, while presenting the Bishops as somehow having greater insight with the bestowing of the mitre. I think not. The mitre signifies authority, not wisdom. This reflection document leaves much to be desired in terms of Catholicism, but it is reflective of the problems in the Church in many places beyond E&W. Just a few comments on things that hit me slap in the face as I read through it.
We meet people in all stages of their vocation and journey...couples living together...with previous marital relationships which have broken down which they have left...we are part of the onward expression of their life and love as the couple form a home, often blessed with children, and seek our support and help to bring faith to the children and family...often maintained through on-going celebrations of the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation and first Holy Communion with the children born of the marriage.
A journey made in a sinful situation is not a vocation, since is not a journey directed towards God. This is the language of modern sociology and psychology and its social engineering; by using it the Bishops appear to be trying to present a judicious picture we will fall for. Many will not.
Nor are we sought by those in irregular situations to give support to their life of faith, but to assent to their sinful situation: baptism is most often motivated not by faith but access to the school, while First Holy Communion is most usually an isolated Communion, not repeated unless the children are at a school Mass (where, despite having reached the age of reason and being capable of the grave sin of not attending Sunday Mass [CCC#2181], the teachers invite all who have made their (so-called) ‘First’ Communion to receive.
The Synod does not shrink from the demands of the Gospel and the Kingdom, urging us to make “the demands of the kingdom of God” but this must be accompanied with a compassion and love, seeing firstly persons and secondly their situations.
Making the demands of the kingdom of God means asking folk to set their lives right and this will always, no matter how gently put by the priest, be experienced as judgemental and combative. People do not see themselves existing in a vacuum but in their concrete situations. You cannot see the person without seeing their situation at the same time; not secondly. If the Bishops mean ‘show compassion and respect to the person regardless of their situation’ that is fine, but compassion which seeks to make the demands of the kingdom is by nature correctional, concluding with: ‘Go, and sin no more’.
The Church in North Africa was ruptured was ruptured in the early fourth century by the Donatist heresy. St Augustine spoke against this heresy in the Council of Carthage in June 411. The Donatists believed that they represented a ‘Church of the pure’, uncontaminated by dissent from those who betrayed their Christian faith during a period of persecution. They alleged that the Catholic Church of Augustine’s day was contaminated by their ancient link with those who in the persecution a century earlier consigned the Sacred Scriptures to fire, ‘the traditores’.
There is a subtle bullying in this paragraph. If this is not an attempt to gert those who want to hold the Church’s pastoral discipline in harmony with her teaching to label themselves as Donatists, I don’t know what is. They label not only those of us who seek to keep that harmony as Donatists, but all the Popes and Bishops who came before them.
The Church is called to proclaim the peace of Christ to his people, and to the world.
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt.10v34). Yes we have a peace to proclaim, but it is a peace that comes from the forgiveness of repented sin; we are not sent to proclaim a false peace that overlooks sin and pretends all is well with the sinful soul and God. Indeed, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Lk.12v51). Well, we seem to being asked not to divide ourselves from the world but to accommodate it. “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Lk.6v26).
Augustine’s own personal journey to find the truth was long and arduous; at times he despaired of finding it, before he gradually came to it in piecemeal fashion and by the kindness and witness of others.
Augustine accepted the Truth and the behaviours it required from the time of his conversion; he did not convert ‘piecemeal’. His search was not for Truth with his behaviours being modified along the way, but a search for understanding what he already believed and lived by.
All in all this is a very disappointing document from the CBCEW; it is one which seeks to allow for all kinds of moral irregularities in the hope that people are journeying in stages to the Truth and to behaviours fully consonant with the Truth. This is extremely naive and devoid of intellectual insight: no one who is allowed to receive the Sacraments while living in a civil union after divorce or a homosexual pairing where sex acts are allowed, is going to journey toward greater Truth –why would they? They have all they could want by receiving the Sacraments in their current situation. Permitting them to receive the Sacraments in such situations does not promote the journey the Bishops presume they are on; it terminates their journey by providing them here and now with the goal: reception of the Sacraments.
Toward the end of the questionnaire we are asked, “What is the experience that the bishops need to hear?” What the Bishops need to hear is already heard by them: the pain and anger of those who cannot receive the sacraments but this cannot be helped: we either live by the Truth or we abandon the Truth, and to abandon Truth is to abandon Christ. What the Bishops need to say is another thing: they need to hold to the truth in word and deed while encouraging those excluded from the sacraments to continue worshipping and socialising with their parish.