Friday, November 7, 2014

Family Discernment

Pope Francis had called for an “Extraordinary Synod of Bishops,” which was held in October in Rome. The group discussed the family and its relationship with evangelization. At completion of their 2 week meeting, they issued a statement called, ‘Synod14-"Relatio Synodi" of the 3rd extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops: "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization" (5-19 October 2014), 18.10.2014.’ If you would like to read it, link here

The Synod has focused on the family as the male-female-child unit (nuclear family), but the whole Church is also sometimes referred to as a family (Church family). Though I’ve seen quite a few references to what Jesus Christ said about divorce, here I want to point to another quote concerning what He said about family.

In Matthew 12, verse 47 (NIV), Jesus Christ had been speaking to a crowd and someone told him that his mother and brothers were outside seeking him. The Lord asked,
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
God’s will is something Christians strive to do in our imperfect way, and our efforts have many aspects. If we are Christians, our nuclear families are to be considered in the greater context of what it means to follow Christ. In doing this, we try to understand the meaning of Christ’s words with the help given to us by the writers of the Bible and Christian leaders. But if and when possible, we also try to connect with God in an interior way. We pray to Him, we think about Him, and this already is beginning to make that interior relationship. Then, some of us feel movements deep within that lead us to believe God may be present. They evoke emotions of awe or love or other spiritual dimensions. They seem to us beyond those felt every day, perhaps as a part of special events of life or even deeper and wider than these.

Catholic leaders encourage young people to seek their vocation, meaning to try to follow God’s will. They also mean it in another way, since “vocation” stands for a life in specific religious service. I’ve often read of priests, religious or deacons who felt they had followed God’s will in pursuing their vocation. This effort to hear God’s call is an interior communication with God.

Romance books always have scenes of persons starting to notice each other and becoming aware that they react in a different way to each other than to anyone else. As most people know, these feelings can be very vivid and energizing. And of course if thwarted, they can lead to heartbreak and great pain.

The Psalms in the Bible are a reminder of the communion King David had with the Lord, with emotions not exactly the same but comparable to the romance books. Often he expresses anguish, but also joy and awe at God’s creation. Many people have experienced a great joy when they have first become Christians. But after time, the going can get tough. Saints have talked about their “dark nights of the soul,” and so it can be a little like the human relationships we experience.

Christians in general experience difficult relationships among each other, easily demonstrated by the number of denominations we have and even the infighting inside each of these. And certainly we have problems relating to non-Christians.

All relationships can be joyous on one hand and terribly difficult on the other. How do we get to the right place in these relationships? I’d like to say I’ve figured it out, but my rapport with others can be as rocky as anyone else’s. Yet I do have an ideal that I try to follow in my life, and it has to do with discernment and prayer.

I know for Catholics, especially devote ones, that saying the Rosary is next to being in heaven. However, I’m a convert, and I don’t have the same connection to it that they do. I’m not saying they shouldn’t continue with it, but I personally prefer a prayer which expresses thanks, awe and supplications more specifically. I do this as my life rolls along, often praying for specific situations.

I’d like to see that happen in our Church families, with groups praying, discussing, and discerning together. Right now, we pray in the mass, which is good, but it sometimes feels like the prayers are done for us instead of including us. I’m not saying group prayer should be done in mass, but it should be part of the community beyond the prayers of mass and the small number of devout people who daily or weekly repeat the Rosary.

Now, I say this having experience with group prayer in other settings, and it takes a lot of commitment and patience. What can happen is that it can devolve into politics, with people praying for their party to win. Members would have to remember the Church is not the same as the state. Another problem is there can be almost as much repetition as with the Rosary, because people pray the same things over and over. This is not necessarily bad, but it is where other crucial elements come in: frank but civil discussion to express individual differences of opinion and evaluate progress toward agreement. The idea is not that everyone has to do everything one exact way, but that if we are disagreeing about serious subjects, we are not hearing God’s perfect will. (We thereby discern what subjects require further discernment.)

Group prayer should focus on listening to God and not to the individual desires of the members. That is where the discipline of discussion, prayer and discernment is distinguished from personal power-grabbing. When discussion reveals that members do not agree, they should go back to prayer and ask God for His guidance. Then, after a waiting period, there would be another discussion and if necessary the cycle repeated until agreement is reached.

And that is where it gets very tough, because many people, including priests and Church leaders, do not seem to understand the difference between what they want and what God wants. Any time anyone disagrees with them, they automatically assume they are right and the other is wrong. This is the very reason for the desperate need for discerning prayer in the Church family, as well as the male-female-child nuclear family.

Being the optimist, I think that prayer such as this is possible though it takes faith and great patience. In fact, it is a life-time commitment. We’ve heard the phrase, “Families that pray together, stay together.” If the people of the Church could pray together sincerely, specifically and with a heart to listen for God, we could communicate with the Lord and each other. Prayer would include praise and thanks but also supplication for spiritual, emotional, and physical needs, such as those which each family experiences. And on all levels we could seek solutions for problems and help against the temptations of separation experienced by Christians.

I hope to talk about the Holy Family next month. December seems like a good time to talk about family, since we focus on our Lord’s birth. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving and I’ll see you then.