Why I am not willing to complete the synod survey
Thank you for your invitation to complete survey on the Family. I regret that I am unwilling to respond to the survey, in its present layout, for the following reasons:
- The survey seems more concerned with current knowledge of Catholic teaching rather than collating an awareness of the challenges to the Christian family today.
- The opening questions, regarding knowledge of Catholic doctrine and teachings on natural law, are in themselves a demonstration of a bias by the designer/collator, who, consequently, is likely to be dismissive of non-academics and of those whose approach differs from the current accepted theology.
- These questions tend, also, to dissuade those primarily concerned with living their Christian faith rather than with theoretical considerations of moral dogma. A layperson is unlikely to be interested in a survey primarily concerned with natural law and therefore the completed results will be skewed.
- Many of the questions request opinions based on generalised observations rather than requesting factual data or, at the very least, the individual’s personal beliefs. As such, the survey is relying on hearsay and anecdotal evidence. This type of evidence would never be accepted or respected as having any informative value. It is, in reality, the type of evidence that usually leads to inflammatory reactions based on emotive data.
- I believe that the survey, in its current form, is viewing family mainly through the lens of sexual behaviour and faith development, while disregarding the importance of the family relationship dynamic in forming the core unit of a Christian society.
- The very structure of the survey will be seen, by many, as a conclusive demonstration of much that is ill with the Church today, namely that its doctrines concentrate on a theological rather than a humane approach. As such, they alienate the pastoral while empowering the legalistic.
For these reasons my fear is that the results of the survey will be used much as a drunk uses a lamppost: more for support than enlightenment.
I wonder, also, how this sexual/doctrinal emphasis concurs/conflicts with or undermines the statement by Pope Francis that, while the Church’s teaching on contraception and homosexual relationships remains unchanged, the time has come to focus on Christian values and practices rather than on theological ideals.
In my opinion, what is missing from the Church’s theology of marriage is the acceptance that family is the forge in which the true values of Christ’s teaching, namely, kindness, understanding, acceptance, awareness, forgiveness, sharing, affection, involvement, listening, communicating and respect for the individual are promoted and practised. It is through these values that family members are brought closer to understanding how the gift of God’s love, of, and for, each of us, is relevant in the world of today.
A family member, in whom these values are inculcated, will grow to be an accepting and peace creating individual. He will be inclined, out of a sense of belief in its worth, to turn his mind to the wonder of God’s creation, and to his own particular place in promoting Christ’s kingdom. He will be inspired to practise out of a sense of belonging rather than a dutiful acquiescence. Surely, this is God’s plan.
What, I believe is needed is a family theology based on primarily promoting the loving relationship between spouses. As a marriage preparation course facilitator, I came to believe that this was promoting God’s plan. As a marriage counsellor, I frequently find that marriages are foundering because of lack of awareness of the necessity to prioritise the loving couple relationship and because of ignorance of what this entails.
It is worth reflecting on the story of Jesus in the temple. We learn that at the age of 12 years, Jesus amazed the teachers with his understanding and answers. Obviously, he knew the scriptures and the law.
But Mary’s admonishment of him was based on the human emotion of anxiety. “Son. Why have you treated us like this?” We might well rephrase this as “Why were you so thoughtless?”
The reply Jesus gave was “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’ house?” Nevertheless, he returned home with them and remained obedient to them, growing in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men.
Is it not reasonable to assume that Jesus learned that dedicating himself to theology only, without consideration of the basic anxieties of his fellow man, was not his mission?
Is it not safe to assume, in the intervening years spent in family and community, that he became popular because he became caring?
Is it not safe to assume that it was the influence of family which made him aware of the struggles of living in a challenging world?
The Jesus, who began his ministry, was a caring Christ, ever seeking to invite, ever seeking to heal, ever seeking to comfort, ever seeking to forgive and ever seeking to feed his flock. While warning of the dangers, he also warned against placing heavy burdens on men’s shoulders. He asked his followers to feed his flock not govern them.
Through the family, Jesus may have become aware of the human emotions and he may have become aware of the failings of the dogmatic and punitive approach of the Jewish Faith, many of whose members, like members of the Catholic Church, were good people.
His Church was to be a Church of love, love of God and love of neighbour. Is this the Church we have today? Is it not too easy to be a good Catholic through love of God alone?
By relying on a theology of marriage, which is based on the ancient texts of Genesis, the Church, in my opinion, fails to identify, as being of divine origin, the bond of love between a husband and wife, in which they find true acceptance of each other through the daily cultivating of their relationship. Consequently, the Church is viewed by the laity as having an incomplete understanding of the sacrament of marriage.
Is not its view of sexual desire and intercourse an imposition of a moral stricture on God’s gift? Is it not saying to God that sex in marriage is good for the relationship but it is too pleasurable, so therefore bad? Can there be, in the promotion of mutual love between married couples, a place for chastity or sexual duty? As a married man, I have felt closer to God, and to an appreciation of His wonderful gift of love and acceptance by another person, after sexual intercourse than at any other time.
By stressing children as the outstanding gift of marriage (Gaudiam et Spes, page 61), the Church fails to recognise that it will be as an individual, in all my capacities, not just as a parent, that I will meet God.
A theology which focuses family on child rearing may, in part, be responsible for individuals both male and female finding, when the children are reared, that they are no longer close and that their relationship has been diluted through neglect. A neglect, usually, fostered by wives focusing on their role of motherhood and husbands focusing on finding fulfilment through work and extra family interests.
While not in any way undervaluing the role of parenthood, is it not, naturally, relegated to a secondary function as the children become adults? Indeed, the wish to continue to exert parental influence on young adults is frequently a cause of family discord.
My belief is that in the properly ordered family, it is the spousal relationship which remains paramount, punctuated by a period of child rearing, then returning to the relationship of the spouses. In this model of family, growth in wisdom and love will accompany respect for and by the individual. Adherence to the vows of matrimony is in itself a powerful acknowledgement of God’s plan, a powerful prayer
Without inspirational guidance, based on the characteristics of real loving, as inspired by Christ, many are doomed to fractious relationships based on unhelpful world value systems learned, or experienced, in their families of origin. Worse, many children are influenced to learn unhelpful priorities and harmful strategies to resolve the daily challenges of family, marriage and social life.
As a 66 year old married man, a practising Catholic with four adult children and eleven grandchildren, I cringe at a Church approach that creates an individual inculcated with duty rather than with love, inculcated with a fear of being excluded. An individual who, like St. Paul, before his conversion, obeys all the rules but, without love, misses the essential message of Christ.
- I long for a Church whose homilies address promoting and enhancing love rather than faith.
- I long for a Church which teaches acceptance of those traumatised and broken, by marriage breakdown, by biological difference and by a society founded on rules, laws, individual achievement and material wealth.
- I long for a Church which, rather than concentrating on the maintaining the traditional family, challenges Government policies that allow individuals to abandon the emotional, spiritual and corporal upkeep of their children and spouses.
- I long for a Church which challenges a society which promotes work above family.
- I long for a Church which educates society to understand that true individual achievement is found in the ability to form and maintain relationships with a close spouse, with one’s children and with every human met on life’s journey.
- I long for a Catholic Church which is identified by its care of the individual and its compassion rather than its strict adherence to dogmas, in particular, those related to sexual mores.
- I long for a Church which includes rather than excludes. To my mind, anything, which promotes division, exclusion and/or feelings of rejection, within the Church, cannot be in keeping with God’s plan.
- I long for a Church, of which I can be a proud member because of its reputation for promoting love rather than doctrine.
- I long for a Church unafraid to highlight the countless selfless acts of all clergy, religious and lay members who devote their lives not just to spreading Christ’s message but to the temporal and spiritual betterment of those in need.
- I long for a Church which is recognised for its condemnation of social injustice by individuals and systems alike.
- I long for a Church which focuses on helping the lambs, savaged by a lack of consideration, rather than one focused on changing the nature of the wolves through legislation. (Has any ideal ever been accepted through force, fear or coercion, or even by the threat of eternal damnation?).
Is not a smile of greeting more effective, in promoting accord, than a menacing stare? Are not cotton wool boundaries likely to be more accepted than harsh discipline? Are these not the lessons the church can learn from the family?
Should not the Church’s mission for family be: to inspire all families to promote loving relationships between spouses, between spouses and their children and, through acceptance, respect, consideration and inclusion, to promote the unity of all peoplle.
Michael A. Kavanagh, Galway