“[L]ook at the face of the other and to discover that he has a soul, a history and a life.”
That was from Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in 2010. It is but one of many points of continuity one can see in today’s midpoint report on the ongoing synod on the family that was released by the Vatican.
It also happens to be the quote with which Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a film of candid, courageous testimony of three people who have lived gay lifestyles but now embrace Catholic teaching begins. (It can be viewed online.)
The most unfortunate headline of the day so far about news out of Rome on a working document that has been released by the ongoing synod on the family in Rome might have been this one from NBC: “Vatican Synod Told Gays Have Gifts and Qualities.” Our very lives are gifts and did anyone really need to be told that any person has qualities?
More than qualities, they are made in the image and likeness of God: that is our common identity.
It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
That was from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
But there is an obvious difference in the language being used in the draft from the synod on the family that was released today. The working draft reflects the fact that it is 2014 and we have some real pastoral challenges and obstacles to evangelization. How do you overcome them? With a language, with gestures that are inviting people to Church teaching. With a language that acknowledges that same-sex marriage didn’t break marriage, decades of practical surrender to the sexual revolution did.
As with when Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge?,” for the world to finally begin to hear that Catholic Church teaching is really truly rooted in love, is a tremendous opportunity. The misunderstandings that are legion will be clarified if people have real-life and cultural exposure to Catholics living loving witness to the Gospel, living according to Church teaching and finding joy in it.
About today’s document – called a Relatio post disceptationem — Time magazine’s Elizabeth Dias has a good and sober report in which she makes clear:
The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final. “These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view,” the document concludes. “The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015.”
She also has the wise counsel:
Looking for revolution can be misleading. It can mar the actual story of what is and what is not happening. Casual Vatican observers—especially those in the United States, where conversations about sexuality have a different trajectory than in the Vatican or in many developing countries—should be careful to not read into the conversation what they want to hear.
A friend suggested I should have titled my initial post this morning on news from Rome: “Pope Francis’ Synodal Hurricane of Love Provokes Earthquake of Mercy.” Communicating the truth in love has got to be the posture of missionaries in a world that needs the leaven of real Christians living out the mandates of the Gospel, knowing that the real earthquake happened when Christ died, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven and transformed reality, offering us a new promise of victory over death in faith. It doesn’t get more revolutionary than that.
But it’s also important that in reading coverage of the synod and the Church in general is that whatever political side you are on on other matters, Christianity is about being conformed to Christ. This isn’t a debate society we’re talking about. And I’m certainly praying that that is foremost on the minds, hearts, and in the prayers of all involved, not just in this particular ongoing conversation, but in the lived lives of Christians throughout the world.
And maybe we can take as our inspiration those under the sword of persecution. They don’t have the luxury of being distracted by headlines. So many brave men and women — I think of Christians in Iraq and Syria in a particular way — have chosen Christ, who, by faith, know first chose them, dying for them, so that they might have eternal life in Him.
UPDATE: Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria express concern over some of the press coverage today.