Synodalia: the deeper crisis of marriage and family

At the beginning of the Synod of Bishops on the Family and Married Life, an Australian married couple, the Pirolas, addressed the Synod Fathers. It was not terribly helpful except in that it gave voice to the world and the secular viewpoint, and perhaps even the sentimental one.

In a breathtaking display of apparent partiality, a Polish married couple involved with the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family were not invited to speak. Indeed it seems no one from that worldwide Institute (founded in 1982) was invited to speak to the Synod, Sandro Magister has revealed. Thankfully Ludmila and Stanislaw Grygiel were invited to address the pre-synodal meeting of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. Magister quotes extracts from their speeches. Do read them at Magister’s blog page. For now, a few quotes are worthy of highlighting.

Stanislaw Grygiel
Stanislaw Grygiel

From Stanislaw‘s speech:

John Paul II approached every marriage, even broken ones, as Moses approached the burning bush on Mount Horeb. He did not enter into their homes without first taking the sandals from his feet, because he saw present in them the “centre of history and of the universe.” […] This is why he did not bend himself to their circumstances and adapt his pastoral practice to them. […] At the risk of being criticized, he insisted on the fact that it is not circumstances that give form to marriage and the family, but it is instead these that give form to circumstances. First he accepted the truth, and only afterward the circumstances. He never allowed the truth to be left out waiting in the wings. …

One evening at his home, during the 1960’s, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla had been listening in silence for a long time to the talk of some Catholic intellectuals who were predicting the inevitable secularization of society. […] When they had finished speaking, he said only this: “Not even once did you use the word ‘grace.’” What he said then I remember now every time I read the statements of theologians who speak of marriage with no awareness of the love that comes about in the beauty of grace. Love is grace, it is a “gift of God.” …

If this is the way things are with love, inserting into theological arguments the adage, full of pity but opposed to mercy, nemo ad heroismum obligatur, no one is obliged to be a hero, is demeaning to man. It demeans him by contradicting Christ, who on the mountain of the beatitudes says to all men: “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

With broken marriages and families, we must com-patire [suffer with] and not have pity. In that case, pity has within itself something disparaging for man. It does not help him open himself to the infinite love to which God has oriented him “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Pitying sentimentalism is a forgetting of what the things of man are like “from the beginning,” while com-passion, suffering along with those who have gotten lost “in the dark forest,” reawakens their memory of the Beginning and indicates the way back to it. …

Basing his insights not only on his personal experience but on the truth of Christ, especially as elaborated by St John Paul II, he reminds us that to leave truth and grace out of human marriage is to direct such unions towards failure. Marriage, a gift from God and a grace, involves a commitment to truth that should shape the lives of the married couple – their fallible life choices should not shape their marriage. It is another way of saying that Christians have a mission to transform the world with God’s grace, not to be transformed by the world.

Stanislaw also puts before us the true meaning of compassion, a brave and painful “suffering with”, not some quick-fix sentimentalism, or worse, condescending pity. Pity would ignore the truth to make the sufferer feel better; compassion involves walking with the sufferer and leading him or her back to the right path of truth, and to the reason for our creation.

Stanislaw is warning the Church not to enthrall itself to a purely worldly, temporal, humanistic view of human living and suffering, but to embrace the Christian concept of the centrality of the Cross in the life of all disciples, a Cross that leads from this short life to the eternal life of heaven, where the suffering of this short life finds its meaning and its resolution. The Church needs again to preach courage!

Ludmila Grygiel
Ludmila Grygiel

Ludmila came at the issue from a different angle entirely, but perhaps even more powerfully.

Chesterton said that we do not want a Church that will move with the world, but a Church that will move the world. Paraphrasing his words, we could say that families today, those in crisis and those that are happy, do not need pastoral care suited for the world, but pastoral care suited for He who knows what the heart of man desires. …

Christ agrees to speak with a woman who is living in sin. Christ is not capable of hating, he is capable only of loving, and therefore he does not condemn the Samaritan woman but reawakens the original desire of her heart, which is obfuscated by the experiences of a disordered life. He forgives her only after the woman has confessed that she does not have a husband.

In this way the Gospel passage recalls that God does not make a gift of his mercy to one who does not ask for it, and that recognition of sin and the desire for conversion are the rule of mercy. Mercy is never a gift offered to someone who does not want it, it is not a product on sale because it is not in demand. Pastoral care requires a profound and convinced adherence of pastors to the truth of the sacrament. …

lack of confidence in the family on the part of pastors is among the main causes of the crisis of pastoral care for the family. This cannot ignore the difficulties, but must not dwell upon them and admit discouragement and defeat. It must not conform to the casuistry of the modern Pharisees. It must welcome Samaritan women not to hide the truth about their behavior, but to lead them to conversion. …

… in spite of the hardness of heart of his contemporaries [Christ] re-proposed a model of marriage as God had wanted it from the beginning.

I get the impression that we Christians talk too much about failed marriages, and too little about faithful marriages, we talk too much about the crisis of the family and too little about the fact that the community of marriage and the family assures man not only earthly happiness but also that of eternity, and is the place in which the laity’s vocation to holiness is realized. …

Ludmila joins her husband in reminding the Church that marriage has a supernatural and eternal end, above and beyond its temporal and natural end. God’s mercy is something only the repentant can receive, and our mercy must always directed not to indulgence, but to gently leading the sinner to repentance, and thus to God. God might be present to us in the depths of our sin, but only that we might move from sin to holiness.

Yet she is most striking in her bold challenge to the clergy of the Church: marriage must not be defined but its failures but by its essential truth. Moreover, the clergy must have confidence in the family and marriage; if they do not, they undermine the people’s confidence. This clerical crisis of confidence, this lay woman says, is “among the main causes of the crisis of pastoral care for the family”. Many clergy obsess so much about the pastoral care of those who have failed to commit to marriage in times of trial (for whatever reason, some of them profoundly sad, some of them strikingly selfish), that they leave to themselves those married couples struggling to endure times of marital crisis. Concern for those who have divorced (in civil terms that is) must never preclude the duty to support married couples and families as the Christian norm.

If pastors will not commit 100% to the truth about marriage and family life, and thus about the role of human sexuality, is any wonder so many Catholics are in a crisis of living, and a crisis of faith. Perhaps the implication of Ludmila’s speech needs to be stated clearly: the modern crisis in human sexuality and marriage is in large measure due to the failure of clergy to speak the truth in love.

With Ludmila and Stanislaw we can truly say we hear the voice of God’s faithful people, the sensus fidelium so often misidentified.

This couple should be at the Synod. They have more to say that is from God than the Pirolas.

4 thoughts on “Synodalia: the deeper crisis of marriage and family

  1. I think Satan is the one whispering in the ears of those who speak as today’s representatives of our Faith with the view being more worldly and secular, addressing the negative and the failures rather than the positives and the successes. As he would prefer the world to look at the failings and how “out of step” the church is today with the rest of the world. Yet it is the Church who must stand alone in the growing darkness of failures and scandals as the one remaining who stands fast reflecting the last glimmer of light and hope.
    When the Church capitulates, then we are all lost.
    It was from reading the early works of John Paul, who echoed Pope Paul VI, on the role of marriage in society and the role of sexuality in marriage, that it all finally made sense to me. As they each addressed marriage as a true reflection of Christ as Bridegroom and his bride the Church–reminding us that a man and woman must look at their own relationship in the same light—rather we allow ourselves to become selfish (much to the world’s delight)– wanting our own wants met first and foremost, our own fulfillment, our own happiness often at the extent of the other–going off in separate directions verses working in tandem.
    We often marry off a couple and then send them on their way to figure things out for themselves—but we must continue to nurture our faithful–the married and unmarried on what a healthy marriage truly is—the honoring by and of each spouse to and of the other especially in the most intimate of contexts.
    But the world would wish to have its cake and eat it too—the Church must bend to the way of the world to make those of us who are lost and broken feel better about ourselves by yielding to our brokeness– instead of setting parameters and guidelines which are in direct correlation to God, the world wants a Church that yields and embraces the sinful brokeness of the world–becasue in the the end, that’s what we think will make us, in our misery feel better.
    We continue to be disobedient allowing our egos to flourish and in so doing we wallow in the consequences—May the Church remain the light of direction, pointing the way to Grace.
    I’m sorry to ramble Father—
    Julie

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    1. No apologies needed! If it was rambling, it was very Catholic rambling.

      You highlight the fact that modern secular society, and those within the Church who seems to have adopted its agenda, are intent on refashioning marriage into something quite different from the lifelong sacramental union commanded by Christ. By denying its essential sacramentality they seem intent on denying the Church its nourishment from marriage and family life, and denying married couples the graced challenge of denying self for the sake of the other. It is a denial of the Cross, and so is essentially anti-Christian.

      Let’s pray and be confident that the Church will not deny something that is so vital to its own health, and that of the world.

      Pax!

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