In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid hearing about it, there happens to be a synod of bishops in Rome right now discussing “the vocation and mission of the family in the contemporary world.” Pope Francis has called this gathering because he wants the help of his fellow bishops to make a statement to the global Church about the Christian family as it exists in the circumstances of the world.
Also, in case you have somehow managed to be unaware of it (congratulations, if so), there is a great deal of contention in the discussions taking place there. These issues are specifically centering on whether or not the Church should continue the universal pastoral practice of refusing to allow those who are civilly divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist. Camps have formed, battle lines have been drawn, spitballs have been thrown. Some people are right. Some people are wrong. Some people are faithful, some are not.
It can be hard for ordinary lay Catholics to grasp what is going on and why everyone is so upset. Here are the three most important points to keep in mind as you read about the proceedings and, most importantly, as you share your thoughts with others (especially those outside the Church!):
1.) The Church is The Bride of Christ. He will not allow her to be deceived on matters of Faith and Morals.
In other words, what we believe about God and what we believe we ought to do in living out that Faith in God cannot and will not change. Period.
The synod on the family is not an ecumenical council. It is not an infallible statement of… well anything really. The furor surrounding this meeting seems more like a tempest in a teacup when compared to the truly monumental crises and controversies the Church has faced in the past, like, say whether or not Jesus Christ is God, for example. Recently, a friend asked what sort of collective hair-pulling and garment-rending would have happened if the 24-hour news-cycle had been around when that particular council was going on.
Pope Francis is going to make a statement when it finishes. We have no idea what that statement will be. It would be a huge misjudgment of his character to assume that he is simply going to re-state whatever was said at the meeting, no matter how silly or heretical it was.
Whatever he says is not going to change the Church’s teaching on anything. I’ll bet the farm on that.
2.) The Synod is about more than the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried, and it will produce an exhortation to the entire world about the vocation of the family.
It’s easy for us in the West and in America in particular to believe that our problems are the most important problems and our solutions are the only solutions. But remember that the Church is universal and therefore the material for discussion at this meeting is the conditions that affect the family in the whole world. The Western world is definitely the richest part of the Church, but that fact doesn’t make it the most important.
In other words, this isn’t the “Meeting to discuss what to do about divorced Americans and Europeans,” it’s a meeting to discuss “the vocation and mission of the family in the contemporary world.”
3.) These issues aren’t inconsequential because the Church’s rules are never “just rules.” They are always rooted in Prudence and Love.
Some people you talk to may ask, “what’s the big deal about divorced and remarried people going to communion? Aren’t we all sinners anyway?”
Why does the Church deny Holy Communion to those in Adulterous civil unions? (Jesus’ words, not my opinion!)
The simple fact is that the Church loves people and neither wants to help them offend God by committing Sacrilege (CCC 1415) or help them to believe that they’re receiving something that they’re not, namely the graces that come from a good Holy Communion. The Church has a universal law regarding this, namely Canon 915. It’s still unclear to me how the synod fathers who want to change this practice will get around this universal law, but that’s another discussion.
It’s a huge mistake to think that this is some kind of non-issue that doesn’t matter. Christianity does not exclude laws and it’s extremely irresponsible to suggest that keeping good laws is some how Pharisaical or ignorant of the “true Gospel.”
In short, The Church should maintain the practice of refusing Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried because the Eucharist is not only a sign but also the cause of unity in the Church. To give communion to those who are, not, in fact, in communion is not loving to anyone involved because it is essentially a lie.
The old Baltimore Catechism taught me that the Eucharist is spiritual food. Those living in mortal sin are spiritually dead. It doesn’t make sense to try to feed the dead.
What should we do?
We should pray for the Synod fathers who are discussing and most especially we should pray for the Holy Father (we should be doing that anyway).
We should not allow our faith to be shaken or anxiety (which is always from Satan) to creep in.
We should read what is actually being said by the people who are actually there. Good examples of which are these two articles from Philadelphia’s Archbishop, Chaput:
We should wait for Pope Francis’ statement. This is the only thing that will actually matter in the end. Let’s just stop the feverish prophesying on one side and dismissals of our traditions on the other.
Pray. The Church will never fail. But if we don’t pray for them, the people in it will. So pray!
Stop right now and say a prayer for Pope Francis!
Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about the Synod on the Family or on the controversy surrounding it? Please let us know in the comments section!