It’s been busy. Little time has been left for blogging. Maybe just as well.
But a few of people have asked in recent days why I have not posted about the Synod, and what do I think about the Synod.
The short answer is that I wish it were not happening. But reality bites.
It’s cheating, but not totally. Last Sunday I preached at the conventual Mass here at Douai, and I had the Synod firmly in mind. Homilies rarely keep their full effect when reduced to the text without the voice. And of course, there is only so much you can say in under ten minutes. Nevertheless, for once I am going to add a homily here, last Sunday’s, as a sort of ferverino for us all on Synod’s Eve.
The Gospel, you might remember was from St Mark, chapter 9:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.
“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
So with these words of our Lord in mind, you will see what I am on about. Some of you may find it helpful. If you do not, move on in peace. But do pray for the Synod Fathers.
For better and for worse the Enlightenment of the 18th century happened, and changed almost everything about human life in this world. At its best, it gave free rein to human reason to extend the boundaries of our knowledge of the universe, the earth, and human existence. At its worst, human reason became a god, a golden calf to be worshipped for itself. Indeed after the French revolution Robespierre and his cabal established the Cult of Reason, declaring, “Reason is God”. It is no coincidence that what historians call the Reign of Terror exactly coincided with Robespierre’s Cult of Reason.
Even as human reason expanded our knowledge of the natural world, it reduced our vision and focus more and more to this natural world, shrinking our horizons to what merely could be observed and measured. As our reasoned knowledge grew our vision diminished proportionally. That this should affect the world as it has is no real surprise. But that this diminished vision should condition so much of what happens in our Church is more troubling, and more dangerous.
If you have not heard, next month round two of the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and Family Life will begin in Rome. The lead up to it has been tumultuous and troubling to many. The trouble comes from a loud faction which seeks to change the Church’s consistent teachings on marriage, divorce and sexuality. The arguments are highly emotive and command much attention. These people point out that, say, the divorced who have remarried are often more sinned against than sinning, and that the Church’s refusal to admit them to Holy Communion is to punish them, and to victimize them further.
Of course if our vision, our conceptual and spiritual horizon, is largely limited to this world and this life, then such assertions are compelling. Yet in today’s excerpt from the Gospel of St Mark we find our Lord quite clearly and forcefully directing our vision to beyond this world and this life, reminding us that our horizon extends beyond the kingdom of the world to the Kingdom of God. It is the promise of a life and a world beyond this one that gives meaning to all that we endure and suffer in this life and this world, and gives value to all our good actions and sacrifices here and now.
The Church’s power to teach is not unlimited; it can only, and must only, teach and bind us to the truth that has been revealed by God. The teaching authority of the Church is not a magic wand that can be waved at will to take all our discomfort away. There is no Cross-less Christianity. The psychological, emotional or physical discomfort of this life is as nothing, says our Lord, to the discomfort that might be endured eternally in the next life if we fail to heed the truth as it has actually been revealed. Not to teach the truth is to foster a lie; and, to encourage people in a fantasy which calms the spirit but endangers the soul is hardly charity. Thus our Lord puts it in stark, uncompromising and unmistakable terms: if your eye should cause you to sin, pluck it out for it is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to enter hell with both. So what we do here and now has consequences beyond this world and this life, and the Church has a duty to remind us of this and encourage us to keep to the way, the truth and the life.
Human lives are messy, a cloudy and obscure grey. The truth of Christ to which the Church has consistently witnessed possesses the crispness of black and white. The challenge of Christian living, and the Church’s pastoral practice, is to bring our lives more and more into harmony with Christ’s truth as it has been revealed. We do this not by introducing the murky grey of messy humanity into Christ’s truth, but by introducing more of the crisp clarity of Christ’s truth into the murk of human life. Christ always told the sinners he forgave, “Go and sin no more”. Christ’s example must be the Church’s pastoral practice. To refuse to call sin what it is fools only ourselves and merits the millstone.
So our patient endurance now, our sacrifices now, our efforts to live as Christ calls us to live here and now, all have a value that derives from God’s eternity, and have a meaning that derives from the God’s Kingdom. In another place Christ encourages us: Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all that you need will be given to you. He requires only that we honestly seek it, not that we succeed in attaining it, for that will be God’s gift to the sincere heart.
Indeed Christ has a small word of encouragement in today’s gospel that we might easily miss. “If anyone gives you a cup of water for my sake he will not lose his reward”. All our acts of selflessness, of self-sacrifice, of generosity, of endurance will be crowned with a reward in the Kingdom of God. No good act is wasted, no sacrifice for God’s sake is done in vain. But to see that we must look beyond the narrow confines of this little world and this short life, to that eternal Kingdom that Christ ceaselessly calls us to. Let us not cling to the tinsel and lose hold of the gold. The wonder is, if we strive to be the person Christ calls us to be, we will have a little gold even now, as a pledge of the treasure to come.