Back in October I wrote a Letter to Pope Francis. The first part of the Synod on Marriage and Family had just concluded but I wanted to have my say.
So last week when I read that the Bishops preparing for part two of the Synod were inviting people to respond to a questionnaire I thought this time I might ‘have my say’ via the official channels.
The first question was as follows: Does the Synod Document offer an adequate account of marriage and the family or does more need to be said? As I hadn’t seen the finished document I searched it out online, printed it and sat on the veranda and read it. Fifty minutes later I put it down and tried to get in touch with my reactions. It really was a lovely blueprint of the ideal Catholic marriage and family, even as it recognised that this wasn’t always the norm. At the same time I found myself comparing it to a romance novel. You know, the kind of literature that provides an escape from the everyday reality of relationships. I wondered who would read this document, either online or in hard copy.
In a week when our Prime Minister was criticised for his one-man decision to award Prince Phillip an Australian knighthood, it seemed just as inappropriate to be asked to take seriously a a document on marriage and family compiled by a group of aging celibate males. Even though compassion and understanding shine through many of the document’s paragraphs, it eventually returns to what are the sticking points between the majority of Catholics and the institutional Church – contraception, divorce and remarriage. Across the world the theology of marriage and family is being studied and written from the perception and experience of women. Slowly it must begin to challenge centuries of male- dominated scholarship. Unfortunately such a female approach has no formal part in this on-going Synod.
The second part of the Synod is to be devoted to ways the Church might better support marriage and this is the focus of the 30 questions on the questionnaire. But will this Synod just end up as an exercise in propping up the existing system? Will it be a band aid approach to a human problem that is deeper and wider than the rules and the men who support them, like to envisage? I wonder if an overhaul and modernising of Church rules and structures accompanied by better training and more funding for personnel, is the right answer.
My life experience is limited to Australia and my small circle of family and friends. Most families I know would not consider themselves ‘domestic church’, a term found in the Marriage and Family document. But they do their best to live by Christian values. They’re the kind of families where Jesus could feel quite at home, even as he gently pushed their boundaries, because despite their differences and occasional disfunctionality, it’s where they experience love.
Maybe what mums and dads and families need most of all are not new rules and structured programs but creative opportunities that focus on recovering a sense of God as the Source and Presence of Love. After all, it’s already in everybody’s ordinary lives. What is lacking is having that Presence affirmed. Then maybe the gifts inherent in sacramental marriage will flow through.
Simplistic? Probably, but one can dream.
(Online questionnaire: www.surveymonkey.com/s/Synod2015)