The Corner

The Synod on the Family and the Attainable Joy of the Gospel

“Joy will need to come forth or people will rightly be disappointed,” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville said about the synod on the family that has opened this week in Rome at the request of Pope Francis.

Joy, of course, has been a theme of the pontificate of Pope Francis. (This along with mercy, encounter, going out to the peripheries, prayer, and weeping for brothers and sisters who suffer.) Kurtz cited Pope Francis’s Joy of the Gospel as having captivated people and noted the importance of the synod operating and communicating Gospel joy in practical ways.

In a video interview for the Catholic News Service, Kurtz emphasized that people need encouragement, which is “sorely lacking.” And that encouragement “obviously needs to be based on solid fact and solid teaching,” he added.

You can watch the video here: 

Kurtz cautioned against casting the synod in too narrow a light, saying that one of its objectives is to consider how to pastorally “welcome people.”

Welcome them to what? “To walk with Christ.”

Kurtz explained that the synod “is, in a sense . . . a movement toward conversion,” a walk everyone is invited to and one one which the Church needs to “ accompany” people.

He stressed that no family is perfect. This touches on another theme of the pope’s: We Christians are sinners — that is why we need a Savior! What this synod and the Church offers aren’t magic formulas for a successful family but the way of Christ and help in walking it.

About marriage, he said, people need to know that “indeed the gift of self-sacrificial love for one another, permanent love that is faithful and open to life, is attainable.”

In a conversation we had over the summer, Archbishop Kurtz reflected:

One of the writers who I’m reading as much of as I can of is [Hans Urs] von Balthasar, whom people call the “theologian of beauty.” First I heard Pope Emeritus Benedict say, “it will be in beauty that people will come to discover first the presence of their God.” And now I hear Pope Francis saying to “see first the beauty of the family” — and that’s in the very beginning of this Instrumentum Laboris. [The opening working document guiding the synod.]

People are attracted to beauty. We need to cultivate those qualities in people. We need to find authentic and lively witnesses of that beauty showing through relationships — especially though families, and through married couples who are committed in love to one another.

Someone said that perhaps one of the outcomes that will come from both synods will be for us to do even more to foster authentic couples witnessing to their love. Someone called it an “untapped resource.” Now I’m not sure that’s true because I see an awful lot of witnessing going on now. But I wonder if that’s part of what the Church also needs to do: Carve out opportunities for people to witness to that unselfish love of a husband and a wife for one another, in fidelity and in a faithful love for their children. 

He elaborated a bit about the discouragement that exists about life, love, marriage, and family, saying:

What I have found in terms of both the joys and the needs within family is that where people are experiencing difficulties, there is a tremendous amount of discouragement. Some of that discouragement may come from the challenges within their own circumstance, but some of it also comes from the society in which we live. Part of our task as a Church is that when we say we accompany people, it really means to walk with people, to encourage them, to find ways in which families are able to find a home within our Church and receive support.

More fundamentally even, in his Catholic News Service interview he said that announcing a restored confidence in helping people embrace their vocations with joy is critical. The roots, he elaborated over the summer should be Sacred Scripture and an honest discernment of what God has written on our hearts.

I happened to be talking with Archbishop Kurtz the morning after the feast of the Sacred Heart and we got into his homily for the day. Some if his reflection there helps, too, I think, with understanding the synod:

 In some ways in our culture, we don’t appreciate the lavishness of God’s love and in our Church. And when we don’t appreciate it, we become mini-Pelagians, thinking that we earn our own success, and if there’s any good in us, we get all the credit for it. And if someone else is not matching up in that goodness, then somehow they’re just not trying hard enough.

As Pope Francis touched on Sunday and gets at so often: The Christian’s work, our deliberations, and our love has to be centered on, nourished by, guided by the Trinity. Otherwise, the #DamnedDevil gets in and the will of God for our lives can be thwarted.



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