Family Synod: a sign of hope
The recent Synod on the family has been a wonderful sign of hope for Catholics, those of other faith traditions and those with no particular tradition at all.
By reaching out in his loving, human way, Pope Francis has attracted people. For those of us who had great biological dads he seems truly to reflect the truth of a holy father.
Francis is encouraging, challenging and enabling the huge, diverse, universal melting pot that is the Catholic Church to be like a real family – a whānau.
Families are complex, multi-dimensional, living organisms, made up of human beings with differing levels of function, dysfunction, ability, giftedness, confusedness, opportunity, hypocrisy and human experience.
Add other family realities such as poverty, stages of human development, mental-health challenges, abuse, culture, sexual orientation, aging and other personal, social, spiritual and physical factors and we discover the context in which this Synod was called.
Pope Francis is challenging us to live the joy of the Gospel.
The implications of these realities are seen and lived out in ourselves, our brother and sister parishioners, those alienated from our Church family, Church workers, ministers and leaders.
And just like members of any family, the bishops attending the Synod have gifts, positions, prejudices and dysfunction that affected them and the way they exercised their roles.
It seems to me Francis did what any good dad or family worker does. He opened the tent flaps, inviting all to enter. He invited everyone in his family to speak up freely and share their God-given humanity and the needs of their people without condemnation, blame or career-threatening retribution.
In past synods and meetings in Rome, and even in our dioceses, our family members have been told some matters were undiscussable.
‘Undiscussables’ in a family are poisonous and debilitating, preventing change and growth.
In family work we call it ‘the elephant in the room’, and it eventually becomes so big people are pushed out or are squashed into the corners, breathless and out of shape.
In every family, change often begins when a significant family member starts to behave differently. The gradual change in roles, and then rules, enables real needs to be identified and then the strengths of the whānau to come alive.
As members of the Catholic whānau our mission is, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families’.
Trusting in the Spirit we need to discern what God is asking of us, begin to take risks and act to sort out our faith communities.
Then we can work to address the serious needs of so many families in our country.
Pope Francis is showing us the way to once again fully embrace the truth of the Gospel.
Advent is a good time for a stock take.