In light of the many articles and comments arising from the recent Synod on the Family, I would like to offer some thoughts on the topic at hand that may be helpful for others who are attempting to follow the news on this issue. In any academic setting, and even in every investigative setting, one must first look at the source and, from there, investigate what others are saying about the source.
In this instance the “source” is not much of a source. It is a written document, yes, but as a written document it only serves to chronicle what has been spoken of at this time. This document carries with it no legislative power in the Church. Many people are surprised of the language used concerning homosexuality and others and have praised its content, but these praises are only sung by people who have no desire to investigate what the Church has already said. Websites, such as Human Rights Campaign, have opened up their article on the Relatio saying,
The preliminary but potentially ground-breaking document released today by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops asserted that LGBT people have “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community,” and, for the first time, referred to LGBT couples as “partners” instead of sinners.
Moreover the Huffington Post, “the bastion of quality journalism” as readers call it, reported that,
A day after signaling a warmer embrace of gays and lesbians and divorced Catholics, conservative cardinals hit back strongly Tuesday (Oct. 14), with one insisting that an abrupt-face on church teaching is “not what we are saying at all.” …
The summary document, presented to the media by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, immediately provoked the fury of conservatives about how he and his colleagues were interpreting the spectrum of views aired on the synod floor.
In typical fashion, holding a stance on anything is considered a sort of conscription into an ideology whereby one forfeits his reason and knowledge in favor of some safe and accepted rule. At least that’s how I read this excerpt saying that ‘finally those conservatives are getting some pushback.’ Compassion and warmth can not, apparently, come from anyone considered “conservative.” What I dislike about this article in particular is how it tries to pit two groups against one another.
Both conservatives and liberals have overreacted to this synod. Sadly it has become yet another instance where even the Church is labeled as having two camps. Catholics who can not debate topics with integrity and honesty, even if they get heated, are neither liberal or conservative but rather just bad apologists.
With that said I’d like to make a few points as there are those who have spoken to me saying, “Is the Church going to cave in to societal pressures?” while others have said, “Finally the Church is recognizing gays and homosexuals on (more) equal footing.”
I. As Catholics we need to exercise patience.
All too often I think we forget that we live in history. With 2,000 years of Tradition, traditions, and development we casually quote Nicea, Trent, and Vatican II among others as singular events. These were Ecumenical Councils that contained debate, (fierce) disagreements, and in the fire of competing intellects, language refined six and seven times over. The Church does not shy away from disagreement, debate, and asking difficult questions.
The Acts of the Apostles ought to give Catholics some rest about how the Church proceeds. First the Church in local communities identify a problem of disagreement and proceed from there. But even in local churches there can be “no small dissension and debate between them” (Acts 15:2). Likewise, when brought to the assembly of Apostles and presbyters, there was still “much debate” (v.7).
Thus we as Catholics should not be afraid of debate because we never have been. While others may consider us to be doctrinally locked into a singular way of thinking this is far from the truth. Nevertheless we are constantly confronted with new information and problems. All of us share in the task of transmitting the faith with intentionality which includes us bringing the Gospel to each new problem.
This task requires patience. Just as Christ was rejected and accepted in His day, we are no different. If we really do believe in the organic growth of the Church and her understanding, we ought to judge the fruit of this synod when it is in bloom, not now. In our patience we, meaning all sides, must listen to each other and be open to correction.
II. Homosexuals and others should be co-laborers to the Gospel
Homosexuals and others in more difficult categories are in a difficult spot. Many are isolated from the Church while those who do stand up for Church teaching are rejected as self-hating and enemies. Having grown up in environments where gays were ridiculed and, likewise, seeing how easy it is to demean those I misunderstood, I have challenged myself in the following way:
- What is science (biology, psychology, etc.) actually saying about homosexuality?
- Can I, being critical enough to distinguish descriptive or ideological claims, understand the challenges they face if they do indeed wish to walk the path the Church does?
- Can I use this information to better understand human sexuality and our humanity?
We must be able to affirm the teachings of the Church on marriage and family while also being what we are called to be: one. I still recall being labeled as a certain type of person because I am from Chicago. I was told what my work ethic probably was, among other things. Being labeled as having this or that moral quality, having this disposition, or other pre-determined traits is not only insulting but about as reliable as “blood typology” common in many Asian countries.
It is easy to fall into the trap that “everyone deserves love” and “Who are you to say I can’t have sex?” Sex does not complete us, no matter how good it feels. What completes and perfects us is holiness. Our individual human perfection comes from both our vocation (what I, personally, am called to be by God) and a growth in love that imitates God’s love.
Thus, when we work with others, treat all persons with dignity and all ideas with scrutiny, carefully exploring how those ideas do or do not fit with the Gospel. “Test everything, hold fast to what is good” (1 Thes 5:21).
III. Be informed
This synod, while not the best PR episode we’ve had in a while, has opened up some discussion. Confusion has that effect sometimes. Can you, as families, sit down and discuss the synod? Can we as Catholics openly debate with ourselves and be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our ignorance on certain issues?
Nothing reveals ignorance better than conversation, which is why most of us are usually silent, even among friends. We must fortify ourselves with humility and speak with one another about Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. More than that, we should not look with disdain at Rome or our Church as if they have nothing to teach.
The only way to abolish ignorance is through investigation and, after investigation, testing it against the intellects of believer and non-believer alike. Our children can teach us, as can our elders. No one knows through whom the Spirit will speak and how, but no one is beyond scrutiny and testing. Love of knowledge is one thing, but a love of wisdom is another thing. Wisdom orders all things and no one receives wisdom except through prayer.
Some of us will assent easily and others assent with difficulty, but we should all be open to truth. No one will believe the Church has that attitude unless we practice it ourselves.