Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Extraordinary Synod on the Family

No Pastor is going to deny that the teaching of the Church on the family and sexuality is in a mess.

We have beautiful teaching but it is just not taught, we have a wonderful understanding of the complementarity between man and woman but it is not understood. We can eloquently argue that man and women within the bond of marriage, together, are more perfectly the image of God. We can present arguments that divorce and remarriage harms children. We can speak about the need for sex to take place only within the bond of marriage and to be open to life but it is disregarded.

All the evils that afflict modern society from pornography, premarital sex, contraception, adultery, divorce and marital break-up, single parent families, the exclusion of fathers, the uncertainty of sexual identity could and should be addressed by the Extraordinary Synod. It could go even further and address the assault on Life, the fragmentation of society, its economic breakdown, youth unemployment, the alienation of the elderly.

The Church's teaching is glorious and multi-dimensional, and when presented coherently it is life changing but even among bishops and clergy, and 'professional', it is actually not only misunderstood but treated as an embarrassment to be best ignored or excused away.

To a world that has few big ideas what the Catholic Church actually has to say should to truly revolutionary.

I was talking to our diocesan vocations director recently he was saying how young men see celibacy as something dynamic, that is about spiritual fatherhood and potency and yet so often it is presented in terms of loneliness and negation. Marriage and family can easily portrayed in terms of negativity. I think, I hope, that when Pope Francis speaks about Catholics being obsessed by homosexuality, contraception, abortion, what he really means is that we often present our message in negative terms, whereas we should be presenting the beauty of continent brotherly love, the wonder of being a life-giving parenthood and the dignity and value of life from its beginning to its natural end.

We desperately need a new moral theology. The moral theology, especially around sex and the family, that followed the Second Vatican Council rather than rejoicing in goodness, tended to be a way of finding people excuses to be immoral. Rather than embracing a new way of life and the radical dynamic conversion Benedict and Francis have been calling people to, so much of Catholic moral theology is still expressed in terms of the niggardly 'How far can I go?' It is the meanness and minimalism that seems to dominate the tickbox thinking of dissidents rather than the glorious adventure of discipleship.


blondpidge said...

Well said It's why we cannot 'shut up' about these issues because the truth is too glorious no to be shared. It is not about defending the truth but instead presenting an authentic vision of truth and love.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the positive only approach is that it backfires and gives us the world we live in today.

If you present only the positive, most people reason it to mean "It's a great option with many advantages, but depraved sex is also fun and exciting. Different strokes for different folks" (relativism) or worse "It's a nice ideal, but no-one can attain it...and how many souls have ended up in worse shape because they were trying to live this impossible lifestyle" (e.g. abstinence in unrealistic and results in unplanned pregnancies)

A negative-only approach doesn't work either. I know a few people who grew up steeped in Catholic Tradition, that later became lukewarm precisely because they only heard "no" without being given a "yes", so they just gave up on even trying.

We need balance. A negative message to keep us safe from destruction, and a positive message to give us something to live for.

Cosmos said...

Right on, Anil.

How many stoics does anyone know? How many people are desperately searching to achieve virtue? How many are trying to live the best possible human life regardless of the sacrifices based on examination and reason? Not many! I was not!

So why do we think it makes sense to simply provide the positives? It's like the governemnt expecting people to start losing weight once you explain the long-term benefits of healthy eating. The problem is, unhealthy eating is one of the few ways people can consistently and reliably find pleasure and happiness in our crazy world. Life is hard and stressful, good food helps a lot! I'll pass on long-term heart health.

People will generally start eating healthy when they either look or feel terrible, or when they get closer to an agee when the consequences become immediate. Otherwise, only TV doctors chose long-term health over day to day enjoyment.

On the other hand, most people avoid serious narcotics. Why? We percieve the consequences of dabbling in that world to be real and immediate. Heroin may supply an incredible high, but living cold and broke in an alley is terrifying! We'll pass, thank you.

Right now, mainly thanks to contraception and antibiotics and an atheist/materialist education system, the World is convinced that sexuality is something controlable and relatively safe. Not perfectly safe, but much more like eating than using drugs. In that environment, we are goign to have a very difficult time convincing people that they should give up their pursuit of immediate, ecstatic sexual and romantic gratification. This is especially true when God's vision is so easily mischarachterized as prudish, repressive, and probably physiologically dangerous. But even in its best light, why choose what is more stable and beautiful and truly human over the course of a lifetime, when you can have both? (When I hit 37, and I am settled in my carreer, and the bar scene is becoming exhausting, then I'll switch to the Chrisitian approach. In the meantime, this is fun. I'll stop eating steak too.)

Sure, an unexpected pregnancy or a disease might wake someone up, but if a person is lonely and bored, and they meet someone and have the opportunity for intimacy, most are happy to take it.

We are losing ground because people are making a false comparision. They compare supposed "safe sex" with the integrated, Christian sexuality the Church presents. However, there is no such thing as safe sex! Like hard drugs, disordered, indulgent sexuality leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual peril. It's not always immediate. It may not always be noticable, but it does.

Personally, I think we will continue to lose ground until the Church compliments its beutiful vision with some hard-hitting, non-apologetic, non-embarrased truth about the reality of our diabolically-oriented, self indulgent sex culture.

Fr Ray Blake said...

How worldly, how un-Augustinian! Don't you believe, "my heart is restless until it rests in you O Lord" or the triumph of Grace?

Jacobi said...

There is much talk in the Church today about obsessions, but it seems to me that the most dangerous obsession is the idea that we all have the right, whether in a state of mortal sin or not, to go to Holy Communion. This is particularly so with those who have, of their own free will chosen a lifestyle which denies chastity, reflecting the current Secular obsessions, as with adulterous remarriage and homosexual lifestyles.

The post-Vatican II Modernists largely succeeded in changing the Mass into a something closely resembling a Protestant communion service, because that was a convenient lowest common denominator, Relativised, service. So today, as in my parish we have near 100% reception, routinely and often thoughtlessly, I suspect, while the Confessionals are effectively empty.

Sadly, the idea is not so much to receive Holy Communion, as to be seen to be receiving, which in itself is a sin, see Quam Singulari.

If we returned to the pre-Vat II practice of only those in a state of Grace, having observed a meaningful fast, say three hours, and otherwise pleasing to God, receiving Holy Communion, some 20 – 30% if I remember correctly, then those who have chosen of their own free will to lead a life of habitual sin, but are trying to make amends, could attend Mass, and receive the Grace which flows from that and yet not “stand out”, while they sorted themselves out.

All this absurd pressure to get the Pope to change the Church’s teaching on the definition of sin and the sacrilegious, which he cannot do, would vanish.

I agree Father, we desperately need a new moral theology on sex and the family – and a new Council to declare it and to correct the false interpretations of the last.

Sadie Vacantist said...

In order to resolve complex pastoral problems the Church must reverse the ecclesiology of Pius X and begin to discourage frequent communion. That way we can truly welcome the casualties of the last fifty years while retaining the integrity of the Church's sacramental life. Frequent communion is wasted on me and anyone else who refuses to confess their sins on a regular basis which is the vast majority nowadays, I would suggest.

John Nolan said...

The last Synod on the family was in 1980, the English delegates being Cardinal Hume and Archbishop Worlock. In the party was Fr Vincent Nichols, and a couple of years ago he gave a longish interview about it, which is well worth listening to. It can be found at

TLMWx said...

As a young woman, there was nothing more liberating to me than reading Humane Vitae.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

Who fears God anymore? There is no sin with impunity. The pride and selfishness of the new horizontal charity, the offending against the one Way, one Truth and one Life who is Jesus Christ so as not to upset people on the broad road to perdition is taught in Churches constantly, in catechism classes, in texts officially sanctioned by the diocese, all with a smile; the diabolical disorientation of the world is one thing, but that this disorientation should become the 'mind' of so much of the Church must anger God. It should make more of the Members of the Body of Christ righteously angry as well. "And they that are Christ's, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences." That the world should be upset by this truth and the need to conform one's conscience to the teachings of the Church is expected, but that it should be a source of rancour to so many in the Church?!

'a world without Christ is a world without God'
FR. GERARD BECK, FSSPX; Reflections on the Kingship of Christ. Angelus Press.

Gillineau said...

Fr Ray, you're right; much of the Church's teaching on this issue in recent decades incl. HumVi is reactive, and therefore tacitly appears to accept the conditions of the opposition, in this case the anti-family, pro-choice majority. As such, Church teaching is a negation of that which is normal and it's always an uphill struggle to persuade the majority that it's in any sense worth it. (NFP is one case of this, now being seen as the responsible thing to do by Catholics, a Catholic contraceptive method, which is empowering because it enables women to be like their Pill-riddled sisters and get into the salaried workplace. In which case, why not just do actually effective contraceptives?)

What the Church should do is, as you suggest, present the joyous potential of Christian witness as constructed through authentic sexuality in family life. And it needs to promote the having of children as the highest calling of families, as their ultimate witness. Lots of children.

Mater mari said...

What a wonderful quote from the A&B Vocations Director. We had the privilege of knowing Father Terry when he was a curate in Bognor, where we attended Mass in spite of living ten miles away. He was clearly devoted to his people, not least our severely handicapped son, whom he always treated with loving respect.

Physiocrat said...

We also need to develop the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church.

Economic conditions which lead to instability of livelihoods and shortage of homes are not favourable to families, are they?

Hermit Crab said...

Thankyou, Father. A superb article.

As you say, "We have beautiful teaching but it is just not taught".

We don't want this beautiful teaching "updated" by modernists.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

instability of livelihoods, stability of livelihoods. A good home life is grounded in God, one's love/duty given first to God who created marriage and family; Who also gives very clear teachings for the unmarried.

The random 'family' of numerous fatherless children, and liberated mothers is instability of livelihoods. The calculating single with contraception and abortion back stops have liberated stability of livelihoods.

the godless way will always be godless, stable or unstable.

Anonymous said...

Gillineau said..."As such, Church teaching is a negation of that which is normal".

Church teaching is perfectly normal. Go to the animal world. Sex for anything other than procreation is just not found. The same can almost be said for most non-sophisticated cultures. Polygamy for instance was not about sexual entertainment, it was about having more children and building tribes together via common children. Sex in religion was also nearly always timed to fertility rituals meant to enhance the fruitfulness of the land and the people. Unfortunately, as cultures became more sophisticated, rationalizing exceptions also became easier and more common place and this century the exceptions were assumed to be the norm.

The key problem isn't that the Church's teaching is abnormal. The key problem is that modern society is abnormal does not realize how malformed their conciences have become.

Gillineau said...

Anil wang, normal normally refers more to what is ordinary, expected, rather than what is true or right. I use it in that sense. As such, Church teaching is for the West no longer normal. It is abnormal, contra that which is ordinary.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Gillineau is correct. The situation is untenable for clerics. The whole issue of what constitutes 'communion' with the Church needs to be revisited. Regular exception of the Holy Eucharist needs to be discouraged other than for the sick or dying. This means all of us being denied reception as an act of communion with our brothers and sisters currently estranged from the sacraments for a bewildering array of reasons.

Lynda said...

Church teaching in Faith and morals cannot change - based on objective truth. It is the "West" that has rejected the objective truth. The Church cannot lie because many want it to.

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