TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Extraordinary Synod on the Family

School has returned and for many the summer holiday season is now a memory. I wonder what sort of memory it holds for you. For us, in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, it begins with Christmas, moves into the New Year and then finishes with Australia Day.

Some stay put and enjoy the comforts of home, while others travel to holiday destinations within Australia or beyond its borders to far-off places. undefinedWhat most have in common is a time of stopping, sharing with family and friends, and in Australia watching sport – cricket, tennis and this year, soccer. Whether we stopped for one week or four or more, this has become our holiday season and this Dio Update marks the beginning of the work year, or in our church, the year of mission – not that God’s mission ever ceases to be. So, welcome back to the unfolding message of God within our communities and most especially in our families.

We have been invited by Pope Francis, following the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October (The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation) to once again respond to questions as part of the preparation of the 2015 Synod on the Family (The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World).

At the Prayer Vigil prior to the Synod gathering, 5-19 October 2014, Pope Francis spoke poignantly of the diversity and circumstances for families:

Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of good that has been done and received, of encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wind of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest – the very wisdom – for life[...]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.

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Our response to the Lineamenta (the document from the 2014 Synod of Bishops) is due to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in two weeks. Information regarding this request came to Bishop Bill in the week before Christmas. Not good timing in the Southern Hemisphere – our summer holiday season! So we are attempting to give our people an opportunity to respond by answering the 30 questions on line, to comment on the report, or to attend local discussion groups. (Please see our website for one of the options www.mn.catholic.org.au)

We had our first diocesan discussion group on Saturday 31 January, and while only a small group of people gathered, the discussion was amazing and those present indicated that they were keen for the content of the questions to form the basis for our ongoing diocesan discussion for the year. Interestingly, at the commencement of our discussion on Saturday, I noted that, while the reason for our get-together was initiated by the call to put a diocesan response together to go to Rome (the Universal Church), we would be seeing what the responses may mean for us here in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle (the Local Church). The Lineamenta gives us a framework for reflecting on the family and so I invite you to at least take time to read it slowly and to imagine what it is asking of us about the holiness of the vocation of family.

The Lineamenta breaks up the reflections of the Bishops into three parts:

undefinedPart I – listening, so as to look at the reality of the family today in all its complexities, both lights and shadows:

Part II – looking, our gaze is fixed on Christ to ponder, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty, the role and dignity of the family; and

Part III – confronting the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern the ways in which the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family founded upon the marriage between a man and a woman.

The document speaks consistently of faith, of grace, of covenant and sacrament. Clearly, the domestic church is a theme which the Bishops see as key to our theology and ecclesiology and therefore our understanding of church at the ‘grassroots’ level. Without the sacred gathering of this small community of believers, our parish church and, in turn our local diocesan church, will continue to struggle. Most of the questions posed seek to find a response to the question, ‘How can we do this better?’

undefinedCertainly, there is a lot of reference to many church documents which have been written over many years, referring to the family, and I am always in awe of the wisdom of these writings. I realise it is easy for us to condemn what we think is being written as instruction, but I invite you to really take the time to look at what is being said pastorally to those of us who are attempting to live a life of faith in Jesus Christ. According to Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28) if it is of the Spirit, it will speak to us with authority.

Paragraph 45 of the Lineamenta says the following:

All families should, above all, be treated with respect and love and accompanied on their journey as Christ accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In a particular way, the words of Pope Francis apply in these situations: “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting a closeness and compassion, which, at the same time, heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 169).

Several times in the document, there is reference made to the Gospel of the Family. In the introduction to Part II, it says: “The Gospel of the Family, faithfully preserved by the Church from the time of Christ’s Revelation, both written and transmitted through the ages, needs to be proclaimed in today’s world with renewed joy and hope, continuing all the while to look at Jesus Christ.” This explores the vocation of marriage as witnessing to the mystery of love which Jesus revealed. I wonder if we really live this great mystery of love in our families?

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There is no one clear definition for family anymore. I began my message with the prayer with which Pope Francis opened the 2014 Synod, in which he seems to refer to family as the ‘meeting at the same table’. I like this image and that is how I experience family, whether there be two of us, twenty of us or eighty of us (I come from a large family network). I hope you can take the time to engage in the conversations to which you are  invited around the family at this time in our history.

Blessings on your year and I look forward once again to pondering with you our life and faith.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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