All Christian eyes turn to Rome as approximately 200 Bishops meet for the Synod on the Family. The secular world hopes that Pope Francis, who seeks a kinder, gentler, more loving, more merciful Church, will change Catholic teaching and come around to their “more enlightened” way of thinking. Thus, the secular world also turns its attention to Rome and the media is a buzz with hope for change in Catholic doctrine on social teachings like divorce and remarriage, contraception, and gay marriage.
They should be careful what they wish for.
I distinctly remember hearing a debate about similar subjects as a boy. I particularly remember a priest being questioned by a TV news anchor. “Why can’t the Church catch up with the times on these issues”, was the question. The answer has stuck with me these many years, “The Church sees these issues in terms of centuries, not months or years. The Church doesn’t catch up with the times. The Church is timeless.”
For example, on divorced Catholics seeking to remarry (or already have), what is the Church to do when a marriage ends and it is not your fault? I have a friend, whose husband of 30+ years had an affair. The trust was shattered and divorce followed. Make no mistake, I would love it if the Church could allow her to remarry, but Jesus said,
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Luke 16:18
That seems like a pretty clear rule. (Yes, I know the parallel verse in Matthew speaks of “except for sexual immorality” but there is good reason to think that that phrase does not include marital infidelity). How is the Church supposed to strain logic and tradition to wriggle out of the meaning of Luke 16:18?
On the other big issue, gay marriage, we hear, if two people love each other they should be able to get married. However, the Church has always taught that marriage mirrors the Holy Trinity. Just as the Father and the Son’s perfect relationship of love begets the Holy Spirit, when we, who are made in the image and likeness of God, enter into the covenant of marriage the union begets children. Thus, married couples participate in the essence of creation and relationships that cannot produce children by definition cannot be marriages. The Church doesn’t see marriage as a union for the pleasure of the adults. Rather, it sees marriage as a sacrament that gives couples a share in the very divine nature of God. That’s something the Church is not going to tinker with likely.
For the Church, the things being discussed at the Synod are not just “rules”. To the Church, the things being discussed are revelation, they are things that have been revealed to us directly by God. This is what the secular media does not understand about the Church and its doctrine. To them, ideas are disposable. They think, ‘We’ve done it this way for a while, now let’s change it and try this.’ In fact, the secular world does not exist without changing ideas. The secular world is always enamored with the latest fad, the next “we’ve got to fix this” movement or the “next big thing”. For the Church however, doctrine is Truth and Truth is timeless. Truth does not change because it is hard, or because it is old, or because the people don’t follow it. It was Pontius Pilot that said, “Quid est veritas?” (What is truth?). He thought truth was fungible. It was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, “”The truth is the truth even if no one believes it and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.”
Does that seem harsh to you?
Coincidently, Archbishop Fulton Sheen also said, “It is easy to find truth, though it is hard to face it, and harder still to follow it.” And the things that come out of the Synod will probably be hard for people to hear. I think, that much of what the Synod will propose, is already growing or in place in the Church. Think you need contraception? Natural Family Planning (NFP) has made dramatic strides in the last decades and has become a reliable method of spacing children. Infertile? NFP and medical advances in NaPro Technology have advanced fertility treatment remarkably in ethical and healthy ways. Having trouble in your marriage? Has there been infidelity? There are growing apostolates like Retrouvaille, which give help for marriages that are all but lost. More and more men and women with homosexual inclinations are speaking out more and more loudly through apostolates like Courage about the benefits of living a celibate life. Divorced Catholic is a growing apostolate for Catholics that have been forced to divorce. These ministries, and many more like them, are explaining to our brothers and sisters that living within the traditional teaching of the Church actually leads to a happier healthier life.
I hope that the Synod finds ways to bring our brothers and sisters who wrestle with these issues back into a closer relationship with the Church and the Sacraments. The Synod, under the wise guidance of Pope Francis, should recognize that the fact that these groups of people want to be in relationship with the Church is a good and holy desire. From an objective standpoint these people recognize the truth claims of the Catholic Church. However, the secular world makes a stronger and stronger claim on their minds and hearts. The Church should recognize that these people ‘just want to be happy’. Sometimes however, the parent has to explain to the child that the path they want to take does not lead to true happiness. Sometimes the path to happiness requires hard work and sacrifice. For the Catholic, we recognize that Truth became incarnate and sacrificed Himself for our eternal happiness. The Synod may tweak some things around the edges. It may advocate a change in tone or greater support for the growing array of family life ministries. However, it is unlikely that a timeless Church will change its teachings to placate the secular world.