Good news, irregular couples and much else in between
It's quite an interesting and dynamic period for the Church. The Synod of Bishops is meeting in Rome, the Year of Faith has been inaugurated and the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II is being commemorated. Each one of these events is important in itself. Imagine the import of all three put together!
The Synod of Bishops is discussing evangelisation. It's not only quite a mouthful of a word but also a word whose theological and pastoral implications are myriad. One can, though, explain it in very simple terms. Evangelion is a Greek word meaning "good news." The Church has been entrusted with this good news: The Father's salvific love for us through Jesus Christ; a love we can know through the help of the Holy Spirit. Evangelisation is nothing more that the spreading around and about of this piece of extraordinary good news.
Many bishops from around the world are meeting in the Vatican to discuss the best way of communicating this piece of good news. Within the current economic/political international environment where the communication of bad news is the order of the day, we should be proud that we have this good news to communicate.
This task is intimately linked with the celebration of the Year of Faith. Many mistakenly think of faith as adherence to a long list of things we believe in. Faith is not about lists but about God and the personal relationship we are invited to entertain with Him. Faith begs to be lived in our everyday life. A faith that is not lived is a dead faith. Like all relationships faith has to be celebrated. A faith that is not joyfully celebrated is a monotonous faith.
Vatican Council II was a great period of grace for the Church. We rediscovered the meaning of the Church, gave new life to the liturgy, explored new ways of relating to the world and discovered new value in all religions.
The first part of the Synod of Bishops is now over. During past days different bishops communicated their thoughts about the way we could best communicate the good news entrusted in our keep. Many were the speeches. I will here refer to just two speeches which centred on the family.
Of particular importance for us in Malta is the speech of the Bishop of Gozo, Mgr Mario Grech. He emphasised the importance of the presence of the Church within the life of de facto couples and re-married divorcees who wish to continue living their faith.
"Despite the fact that they are not in complete unity with the Church, because of their irregular state, many of them still love and believe in Christ and his Church," said Mgr Grech. The words of Mgr Grech are comforting words indeed. They increase in substance as the Bishop of Gozo had set up new ways of helping families in his diocese, thus supplementing the good work that the Moviment ta' Kana has been doing for decades.
Echoing what the Pope said in Milan last June, Bishop Grech reiterated that the Church loved re-married divorcees. It is essential that this love is communicated in such a way that these couple feel it. They need to see and feel that they are loved. The Pope had said it was up to the parish church and the Catholic community to do all they could to make these people felt loved and accepted, even if they could not receive the Eucharist.
This subject was also tackled by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto. "The offspring of divorced and remarried parents ... are often rendered strangers to the sacraments by the non-participation of their parents. Here a decisive turning point is needed in terms of pastoral care, as Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed several times (for example at the World Meeting of Families in Milan).
Archbishop Forte added that "it will also be necessary to initiate reflection on the methods and time necessary for the recognition of the nullity of the matrimonial bond: as a bishop and moderator of a Regional Ecclesiastical Tribunal, I must admit that some requirements (such as the need for the conforming double sentence, even if there is no appeal) seem to many people with problems who wish to resolve their situation to be difficult to comprehend."
One augurs that these sentiments are incarnated in concrete Church institutions and practices.