During the past weeks I heard two major areas of concern, from two disparate groups. The first was that the Synod was rigged to change Catholic pastoral discipline in a way counter to Catholic teaching on marriage. Sufficient pixels have been spilled about this, and I’m not going to add to them. The second, which got less airtime but was no less heartfelt, was that the Synod didn’t speak directly to many of the challenges facing families in our society. For example, I have friends who wish that the Synod would have addressed the problem of single parents, or the fact that Catholic parishes often don’t know what to do with singles who aren’t clergy or religious.
I don’t want to minimize these problems, which (as the father of four, happily married for almost three decades) are largely opaque to me; but I wonder, are we expecting too much from the Synod?
As a group, it seems to me, the bishops are tasked with faithfully handing on the faith once received from the saints, for ensuring that the sacraments are available in their dioceses, and for matters of universal pastoral discipline. Note, I said universal pastoral discipline: a large collection of bishops simply cannot address the specific pastoral needs of individual dioceses all over the globe. The pressing needs here in Los Angeles differ from the pressing needs in Kampala. Heck, they differ from parish to parish.The most we could have expected from the Synod on many of these issues, I think, is a list of problems see world-wide (which would have been quite long) and a reiteration of Catholic teaching (which could have been quite a bit longer, and which wouldn’t have changed from what’s in the Catechism). The Synod simply cannot address them at a more particular level.
But…these pastoral issues still persist. If the bishops en masse can’t address them, who can?
It seems to me that this falls to you and I: the laity. And the way we must start is by getting to know our fellow parishioners, especially those whose situations differ from our own, and listening to their stories, so that we know what needs are present in our parishes. We can’t expect single parents, who are struggling every minute to make ends meet and keep it together, to suddenly rise up and form parish ministries to other single parents; those of us in less fraught circumstances need to reach out.
In short, we need to learn to love each other at the parish level.