Friday 10 January 2014

Synod on the Family: The Church and Marriage

Marriage questions are a major difficulty in today’s pastoral work, since today’s society takes marriage to mean anything but what was intended by the Good Lord. Thus, any kind of romantic association is open to being labelled ‘marriage’. The nearest we get to true marriage is where you make a life-long vow to as many folk of the opposite gender as you want, but in serial fashion. Though we hear about boundaries in most areas of life, society and its gurus (therapy theorists and sociologists?) seem unable to recognise boundaries in terms of family constitution: anything is OK as long as those who call themselves family are happy, the male/female union being seen as a ‘social construct’, ignoring the biological and psychological reality of the male/female union.

Surely common sense tells us that if we want our offspring to grow up stable and secure they need the stable and secure environment of a stable, secure relationship between mother and father? Serial partnerships and serial ‘marriages’ are unstable environments, and chaos has ensued since the introduction of easy divorces -though the problem may actually be ‘easy marriages’; marriages entered too quickly and for the wrong reasons, or mistaking of romantic excitement for love.

In that many marriages today are probably entered without full understanding of -and agreement with- the essential qualities of marriage, it is possible that many marriages are celebrated invalidly. One couple told me that they were marrying for life then one of them, when signing the prenuptial form, admitted that if it didn’t work out s/he would be getting a divorce; another couple said “Oh yes, we want children, but only two; definitely no more than that.” Folk have a natural right to marry but I am in a quandary about providing the marriage ceremony for those who express such sentiments. One can defer the ceremony and arrange further instruction, but when they return saying they understand and agree you cannot be sure they do. And you will be justified in your impression when they have expressed full-hearted agreement with the need for Mass and the sacraments but are never seen again after the wedding. Then comes the Baptism of the children; “We will bring them up in the practice of the Faith” often means “by sending them to a Catholic school, but not by practicing it ourselves”.

The up-coming Synod is vitally important; while Synods and the Apostolic Exhortations which follow them do not carry the weight of infallibility they do carry authority, and we rely on their direction. I pray then, that the up-coming Synod on The Family does something to help priests promulgate the Gospel in a pastoral yet faithful manner, without manufacturing false paths that ditch the Gospel so as to accommodate same-sex pairings, serial spouses and cohabitees. If the Synod seeks such paths it will be a damaging synod; one which gives folk the impression that they can knowingly live contrary to the Lord’s Gospel and yet remain pleasing to the Lord. It is a negligent physician who simply prescribes for symptom control and not the eradication of the disease; it will please the patient, but it won’t save his life. Pastors need to recognise that by seeking ways of accommodating what the Church has always considered sin we put souls into the path of spiritual death.

Sadness at the situation of folk who have fallen into choices contrary to the Church’s constant teaching -and the desire to support them- is understandable, but to react by seeking ways of by-passing perennial teaching is not a Gospel-lead reaction. In that our prelates have been formed in the 1960’s-1980’s when Vatican II was promoted by as “all change” and person-centred counselling replaced spiritual direction, we must hope and pray that solid prelates have a sound influence over the Synod so that it is indeed a Gospel-led event. This can only come about if we seek the intervention of heaven now. If we fail, and the Synod Fathers try to accommodate the new morality of the world so as to be ‘merciful’ (but in fact become harmful to souls by accommodating worldly ideas rather than upholding Gospel values) it might pressure or facilitate Francis saying that such new ‘morality’ can be tolerated since the episcopate believes it necessary. We can never be sure in any age that there is a conviction in the Episcopal college that its duty is to protect, defend and declare the Deposit of Faith, not discard it. For many folk the only deposit is “do not judge” -which they wrongly apply to circumstances/choices, rather than to persons.We need ways of educating the person in the pew and the child in the school; of confronting society and of holding out the hand of pastoral care to those in non-Gospel situations. It is certainly a tall order.

We must then seek the intercession of Our Lady and St Joseph that the Synod will bring to the mind and soul of the entire Church and of society a renewed appreciation of marriage and family life in God’s plan, and a new appreciation of the dangerous reality of sin, that the Synod will direct pastors to care for families in ways that accord with the Gospel of the Lord. 


  1. Dear Father

    Thank you for having the courage to articulate these concerns here.

    A nettle which must be grasped throughout the Church is the gross inadequacy of much that passes for marriage preparation. As many know, our own disturbing experiences in this regard led us to start up our own small 'apostolate/ministry' to support any bishops/priests/laity who were open to us in handing on authentic marriage preparation catechesis according to the mind and heart of the Church.

    We also have another worry. In our own Archdiocese and in Ushaw seminary, we have witnessed first hand how 'group consultations' can be used to engineer consent to predetermined outcomes. This danger surely then exists - and needs to be robustly guarded against - in relation to the consultation for the Synod.

    Your call for fasting and prayer is timely.
    In Christ
    Alan and Angeline

    1. Thank you, Alan and Angeline.
      I concur with all you say. Marriage preparation is not great, though I suspect some do it better than others.
      As for group consultations and predetermined outcomes, picking the participants is vital and this applies even (especially?) to the Synod.
      Perhaps even the responses to the survey from the Church at large may have brought in responses mainly from those with a pushy attitude who seek new directions in Church teaching and pastoral practices, the wording of the consultation not being (to my mind) particularly clear about how we promote marriage. I know some read it thought it was asking about how to accommodate new 'family' systems into catholic life.
      God bless you, yours, and your apostate.

  2. After reading your post, Father, I decided to do the questionnaire. I believe, I've tried not too, that if the way the Church worships was restored to authenticity, the world wouldn't be such a mess as it is, now even rejecting 'natural law', as mere theory.

    1. Thank you for the comment, viterbo.
      Yours may be one of the responses that truly needs to be counted!
      In regard to worship: the Church’s worship is actually vital to her mission. We know this from the battle of the Israelites and the Amalekites. Whenever Moses arms were raised in the posture of prayer the Israelites dominated; when his arms were failing the Amelekites dominated. The same is true of the Church and the world: when the Church raises her hands in solid prayer she has the dominance; when her prayer is less than adequate the world has dominance. To be sure, and even if we cannot say the Novus Ordo is textually and ritually inferior to the Usus Antiquior, it cannot be denied that it is celebrated more with the intention of uplifting and affirming the people than it is about giving adoration and reparation to God. Celebrants seem to simply presume the latter, focusing instead on providing a liturgy that will affirm, encourage and uplift the people. It is this mis-focus more than anything which makes the Novus Ordo man-centred.
      God Bless.

  3. Father, you seem to have little faith in the up coming Synod, or in the Bishops generally. I agree they have not given good leadership in the last few years on so many moral issues, but don't you think they might now turn a corner, having seen the introduction of same sex marriages in so many places?

    1. Thank you for the comment.
      I respect the role and personal sincerity of the Bishops, and there are some I greatly admire. But they do not always display the courage needed to confront the world: compromise for the sake of not appearing judgmental seems common. For example, prior to the introduction of same-sex “marriage” some said that while we could not equate such situations with marriage, legal recognition of same-sex unions which gave the partners legal protection for inheritance rights etc, was acceptable. There was a failure to see that what they were doing was protecting the legal definition of marriage but not the natural law, which excludes same-sex pairings. The role of the Bishops is not to protect simply the terminology of our teachings, but the realities behind those teachings. The Synod must protect natural law if it is to be seen as coming from God; they cannot protect terminology alone.
      God bless you and yours.

    2. Amen. There is no reason to have confidence in this Synod.

    3. Thank you, Lynda.
      I take my confidence from the fact that the prelates, I'm sure, are genuine in seeking what they believe is the best way forward (though they can get it wrong), and in the assistance of the Holy Ghost, who can keep them right.
      God bless.


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