A Synod on the Family! But where are the families? – Commentary

Muntinlupa prison,NJ Viehland

Maximum security prison chapel, Muntinlupa City                        – NJ Viehland Photos

 

Latin hymns are a distant memory today. They had been thrown out with liturgical solemnity. Nonetheless, a few sacred masterpieces remain etched deep in people’s psyche. “O esca viatorum” is one such hymn with a sacramental impress. 

That Eucharistic song reminds us of how Jesus broke bread as esca viatorum — wayfarers’ food – with two disciples en route to Emmaus. The manna-like role of the Eucharist was especially evident at the Last Supper.

Sustenance to the harried

When Jesus shared bread with his Apostles, he was not unaware of the imminent betrayal by Judas or the denial by Peter. Jesus communed with them, nonetheless. He was not unaware that almost all of his fellowship members would desert him that same night. Yet, he also knew such communing would sustain most of them in faith — food for the onward journey.

That healing effect of the Sacrament of love may have been very much in Pope Francis’s thoughts when he addressed Eucharistic congress organizers at September-end. He spoke of the Eucharist’s role “in bearing hope, forgiveness, healing and love to all in need, in particular to the poor, the disinherited and the oppressed …walking with them in search of an authentic human life in Christ Jesus.”

Walking with people?

Sadly, the great Sacrament’s role in “walking with” people on their search through life’s problems has been thwarted often by efforts to distort the Eucharist into a disciplinary tool. The ongoing debate about denying Communion to couples in troubled marriages is an example of such intervention.

Already, some laypersons have been driven away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation by abuse of the confessional or its reduction to a disciplinary tribunal. Such misadventures should caution pastors against denying the Eucharist to some faithful just when they need the Sacrament for spiritual sustenance in fellowship.

Marikina, by NJ Viehland

Mission sending, Couples for Christ, Marikina                                          – NJ Viehland Photos

Much evident vacuum

Some theologians’ efforts to distract the upcoming synod with disciplinary issues are not unlike half-century-ago moves to hijack Church renewal with cosmetic liturgical reform.

The Synod on the Family is already hassled with lack of genuine lay participation. Very much like earlier synods on family and laity, this assembly too appears to be overcrowded with bishops and experts. Hence, it is likely to ventilate perceived views on family issues more than the genuine views of families. In fairness to Christian families, such an unrepresentative assembly should not be further abused as a referendum on divorce.

A lesson for the next synod

Providentially, this two-week synod is to be followed up next year by a month-long synod on family-related matters. The experiences of the upcoming assembly should encourage Church leaders to provide for genuine representation of families at the follow-up synod. Such a synod with active participation of families should be left free to discuss real problems troubling modern families. Also, families should be left free to find faith-based solutions suitable to their specific cultural realities.

No doubt, such a family synod would need wise counsel, not impositions, from pastoral fora experienced in “walking with” families in the Eucharistic role noted in the earlier cited papal discourse. Regional family ministries and regional episcopal bodies will be more competent to offer such counsel than quirky lobbies with a kink to tamper with the ethos of local family life. 

END

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Manila archbishop Tagle tells laity to listen to God, answer the initiator

By N. J. Viehland

Manila’s Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle in his short time in the Philippines between the close of the Synod on New Evangelization in late October and leaving for the consistory last Tuesday night found time to explain separately to catechists and lay people the Message of the Synod on Evangelization.

Gaines Marie Rosa Rio of Manila’s Lay Formation Center said the LAYFORCE Chapel in San Carlos Pastoral Formation Complex, Guadalupe, Makati, was unusually packed to require the back panels to be opened that Saturday, Nov. 17 morning. Tagle was the speaker for that session of the year-round recollection series which took the theme: Shaping the Heart of the Laity in the Year of Faith. As usual there was a mix of men, women, older people, students, many in the crowd Catholics.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle explains the Message of the Synod of bishops on New Evangelization by relating the story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well to the life experiences and situations in the Philippines. N.J. Viehland Photo

Tagle painstakingly elaborated each section of the synod message, from John’s story of the Samaritan  dwelling on every symbol in the story. He added anecdotes from his own life, and asked the older men and women and the young ones to reflect on what are “empty buckets” in their lives and what are their “favorite wells”.

“It’s not only the Samaritan woman’s bucket that is empty. All of us are searching for some kind of nourishment,” he said in his usual literary Tagalog. He also connected the themes with societal situations, such as next year’s elections.  

Shifting to either English or Tagalog language, he shared that some young people had told him they would like to see even “just a drop of integrity” in adults they know. The youngsters complained that parents, teachers and other adults act contrary to what they say or teach. “No wonder our young go to other wells of fleeting pleasures,”  Tagle said.

He also invited lay people, “Let us lead our brothers and sisters to the well of Jesus. Let us be like the Samaritan woman and tell others of our beautiful encounters with Jesus. It’s a natural impulse to spread good news. Once you experience something good, you cannot control yourself from telling others about it.”

Participants at the Nov. 17, 2012 recollection on the theme Shaping the Heart of the Laity in the Year of Faith at LAYFORCE Chapel, Makati City take down notes as Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle spoke on the Message of the Synod on New Evangelization. N.J. Viehland Photo

I can relate to his next point because I have been receiving email messages, surveys and some other invitations using the theme of the synod. Ending his session, Tagle reminded us lay people:

         “This evangelization and transmission of the faith, let’s not think  we are the initiator. Evangelization and faith experience are first and foremost the action of Jesus, just like in the experience of the Samaritan woman at the well, it was Jesus who first spoke. This is so with the transmission of the faith.

        ” At the synod, there were repeated reminders that we bishops, the priests and you enthusiastic laity might go right ahead into planning, and thinking of what to do. We were reminded that the initiator of evangelization and faith is Jesus himself, not us. It is the action of  grace. It is God’s initiative. It is God’s offer.

       “But we have a role. What is our role? Listen to Jesus. Answer him. Let him change our heart, and our plans will be to cooperate with his plans, with his ways.

      “It was said in the synod a number of times that maybe sometimes our initiatives are not  fruitful because these are our initiatives, and not initiatives of Jesus. So, we keep developing strategies and techniques, but God may have other plans.

       “So our first step is to listen to Him and let his actions begin and we in turn will follow so that our actions are according to his action and movement.

Tagle left much food for thought that could provide reflection points for a whole year. I continue to go through some of them now while he is in Rome preparing for the Consistory that will elevate him to the College of Cardinals on Saturday at St. Peter’s Basilica.

He was named cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI on October 24, 2012, as the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization was winding down. Five others, including two other Asians, were also named Cardinals to be created in an unusual second consistory in a year.

Tagle, 55, was installed Archbishop of Manila on December 12, 2011 and left his office as Bishop of the Diocese of Imus, Cavite, the place where his parents live.

Pope Benedict in announcing the new cardinals said, “the Cardinals have the task of helping the Successor of Peter in the performance of his ministry of confirming the brethren in the faith, and that of being the principle and foundation of unity and communion of the Church.” He also asked for prayers “for the newly elected.”

Participants grasped the hand of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle to put on their foreheads as a traditional Filipino gesture of respect while thanking him for his talk on Shaping the Heart of the Laity in the Year of Faith at LAYFORCE Chapel, Makati City, Nov. 17, 2012 / Photo by N. J. Viehland

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle received a picture fram of the Philippines map after he gave a recollection on Shaping the Heart of the Laity in the Year of Faith at LAYFORCE Chapel, San Carlos Pastoral Complex, Guadalupe, Makati City Nov. 17, 2012 / N. J. Viehland Photo

At the LAYFORCE recollection, it looked like Church members came alive, during Tagle’s talk.

Beyond all this, who knows which way The Initiator will lead our Church and new cardinal ? My ears and heart are listening.