The bishops of England and Wales were criticised last year for not publishing the results of the survey Pope Francis had sent, in preparation for the first part of the Synod on the Family, to find out what Catholics think and feel about marriage, family life and church teaching. This year, as the second part of the Synod draws near, they have published a summary of the responses to a second survey, and it has made headline news. The headlines have all been about the pain, anger, frustration and sadness that many Catholics feel because of the gap between the ideals the Church teaches and their own experience of the messiness of family life. The media have not reported the many positive responses that came in, like this description of marriage:
“Giving every part of myself to the person I love and trust the most. No matter what life throws at us, being together is the most important thing. To put our family first, before work, money and material items.”
The first reading and the Gospel today repeat the ideal which is central to the Catholic faith: marriage as a lifelong covenant which reflects and reveals the unwavering love of God for his people. But Jesus also pointed out that the Jewish law made provision for the waywardness of human nature, and he spent much of his ministry forgiving and healing the effects of sin: he welcomed sinners and outcasts, saved the life of the woman taken in adultery and refused to condemn her, and offered eternal life to the woman at the well who had lost count of her husbands.
Some of those who responded are worried that the Synod might be tempted to water down the traditional teaching of the Church, but the majority simply want the Church to be as compassionate as Jesus:
“I want a Church that welcomes all and that is in tune with modern life. Marriages fail, gay people exist, children live in broken homes, people have dependencies. We are all inadequate and struggling. Minister to us, include us, all of us.
The full report can be found at http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News/Family-Survey-Responses.
By all accounts, the Bishops who will be at the Synod have a wide range of views: we should all pray that the Holy Spirit will be working overtime during their meeting.