Over the weekend, Catholics like me breathed a sigh of relief — reassured by some textual changes, disconcerted a bit by the decision to keep communion-without-annulment on the agenda, deeply moved by our Holy Father’s call for us to trust:
Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St. Ignatius called it, if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard — with joy and appreciation — speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parrhesia. . . . And this always — we have said it here, in the Hall — without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life.
It is safe to speak freely, he reminded the weak-kneed among us, because we speak with and under Peter: “The presence of the pope is the guarantee of it all,” he promised.
So now what?
The sausage-making is now descending into our hands, in a yearlong discernment process in the local church.
Surely Pope Francis doesn’t want us to just fake it, mail it in, proclaim that nothing is changing, and hunker down in our individual parishes and private façades.
I am also pretty sure he doesn’t want us to respond the way this trending Crux columnist did: “My prayer: That Francis prevails over the bigots within the Church and that Catholicism, at last, moves on as well.”
So what should we focus on as we meet in local Catholic churches? One suggestion: on the suffering of the least and littlest among us.
In 1967, Cher released a song called “You Better Sit Down Kids,” which summed up the divorce culture and the havoc it would wreak on childish hearts.
It is a generational anthem:
I don’t want love to destroy me
Like it has my family. . . .
Can we work it out?
Can we be a family?
I promise I will be better.
Daddy please don’t leave.
Here is my prayer for the next 18 months: Instead of retreating to our corners and/or hating on one another in public, let’s spend the time focused on the suffering of children, the children never born and the children whose families fall apart.
What can we say or do to protect the littlest ones, the voiceless ones denied a chance to know a mother’s love because of the triumph of our fears or our indifference over love?
What can we say or do in our parishes, in our homes, and in our schools to welcome one more unborn child, to save a mother from her fear, to reassure her that her child is precious in God’s eyes and ours and that she won’t be alone? According to a 2001 study by Lawton and Bures, divorce doubles the likelihood that a child raised Catholic will reject the faith as an adult. We are losing vocations, and souls, because of our failure to create communities of love for our children.
What can we say or do at the dinner table, in the pew or the school, or from the pulpit, to prevent one more fatherless child, one more family falling apart, one more child begging her Daddy not to leave?
Keeping our eyes on this prize will echo what was best and most moving about the rejected mid-term synod report: Its simple language connecting directly to human brokenness.
This simple language is part of what so many gay people found so moving as well. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capeheart gave his own moving testimony to what the warm language of the mid-term synod report meant to him.
I’m not saying the church or the pope will become a champion of LGBT rights. And I’m definitely not saying they are going to support marriage equality. What I am saying is that by talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics and worrying about their place in the church, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God.
The Church has taught for 30 years that unjust discrimination against gay people should be rejected, and urged Catholic families to love their gay children. But Vaticanspeak often feels cold and clinical. Perhaps we can heal wounds with warmer words and the witness of extraordinary women like Eve Tushnet, whose painfully poignant memoir of her conversion and life in Christ is called Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith.
I asked an acquaintance of mine on a college listserv why he loved the mid-term synod report, the one I found so disturbing. He said:
As a relatively young man, somewhat of the kind of which this document is talking about, I found it to contain an overwhelmingly positive message of true Christian charity and love while at the same holding firm to Truth. To be entirely honest, this is the first “official” document from the RCC that has even made me seriously consider the option of joining the Catholic Church.
Why? What moved him so?
There are a lot of us out there who would want to live the purity that [a traditional Catholic] talks about, but without spiritual guidance from the Church (both pastors and laity) will have a darnedest time getting there. Our generation has a totally broken model of “family” right now and desperately need help trying to figure out how to learn how to do it right. Many kids, especially from the Northeast, aren’t even AWARE that a sex-only-after-marriage relationship can exist.
He went on to tell me:
I’m continually surprised by how many of my “liberal” friends keep coming around to conservative positions about family, sex and marriage, however they are totally lacking in any framework for how to deal with these things. IMHO the best thing that the Catholic Church can do right now is head into the breach and try to help save my generation.
Here’s my prayer: that we can best figure out a language of hope, one that speaks of truth and love, if we keep our eyes on the breaking hearts of our children. Surely, together, we can find a better way.
— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.