By Mike James – Catholic Standard – Guyana – 3rd October 2014
Catholics around the world last weekend offered special prayers for the work of the Synod of bishops from around the world which begins this Sunday October 5 to discuss “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
This Synod termed “Extraordinary” is so in a number of ways. Its principal focus will not be on decision making or on submission to Pope Francis of specific recommendations for immediate action.
In a recent interview, German Cardinal Walter Kasper who has given a major address on the challenges facing families at the request of Pope Francis observed, “I hope we will engage in a sincere and calm discussion of pastoral experiences and issues and the spirit will be one of listening. No pre-packaged answers, just clarifications regarding the status quaestionis. There will be a whole year for discussions to take place on a local level, before any decisions are reached in 2015.”
In October 2015 an “Ordinary” Synod of the same topic will make specific recommendations to Pope Francis.
The current synod is also extraordinary in that it has seen an unprecedented invitation by Pope Francis for widest consultations across the entire Church including laity on the major issues facing family life. As the Secretary of the Synod, Cardinal Baldissieri put it in his letter inviting questionnaire responses for the Synod, “The synodal reality is manifested with the most effective participation of the world episcopate under the governance of the Holy Father, who wishes to strengthen it for a better exercise of collegiality.”
One consequence of this call by Pope Francis for wide participation of different views on family issues is that a number of Cardinals have been publicly debating their contrasting views of difficult issues such as the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics
Four senior Cardinals have taken the “extraordinary” step of publishing this week just before the Synod begins a book “The Gospel of the Family” in which they argue strongly for the Church to maintain its disciple regarding divorced Catholics
“I observe with a certain amazement the use by some theologians, once again, of the same reasoning about mercy as an excuse for promoting the admission of divorced and civilly remarried persons to the sacraments. The scriptural evidence shows us that, besides mercy, holiness and justice are also part of the mystery of God,” writes Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
His fellow German Cardinal Kasper responds, “How is it possible to talk too much about one of the core subjects the Old and New Testaments? Mercy may not contradict doctrine because it is in itself a revealed truth and does not take away the Lord’s Commandments, but it is a key to interpreting these. During the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII said: ‘Nowadays the Church must make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.’ So mercy is the central theme of the Catholic Church’s conciliar and post-conciliar era.”
This “Extraordinary” 2-week Synod will be followed closely by Catholic and others especially to help them assess the new emphases on participation, collegiality and frank debate, mercy and justice in the Church under the leadership of Pope Francis.
With regard to the issue of participation in the Eucharist, the following striking reminder of Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation “Joy of the Gospel” will surely receive frequent reference and careful reflection during the Synod
“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”(Art 47)
Indeed as a humble parish priest recently confessed, “We who receive the Eucharist most often do so perhaps because we need the mercy and forgiveness of Christ the most.”