- Challenge I – Witness to Both the Beauty and Realism of the Catholic Vision of Marriage and Family Life
- Create a parish environment that nurtures and celebrates marriage
- Create married couples mentor groups at the parish and/or at deanery level
- Make education in faith for all ages more effective as the foundation for sacramental marriage
- Challenge II – Form a Culture of Invitation and Hospitality to Unmarried Couples
- Establish parish-based mentors to welcome and accompany young adult and couples into full participation of church life
- Form a diocesan task force to establish best practices on support for couples preparing for marriage
- Foster a culture of inclusion for couples in all stages of their relationship.
- Challenge III – Welcome, Nurture and Form Children
- Create experiences and resources that educate and evangelize children and their families in the Faith
- Create parish small groups to cultivate Faith and relationships among families
- Identify and minister to families who are alone, isolated or on the margins in our parish communities
- Challenge IV – Provide Authentic Pastoral Support for those who are Divorced
- Create a culture of support for those in all stages of separation and divorce
- Reconfigure the Marriage and Family Office to include a director focusing on all stages of separation and divorce
- Provide formation in the areas of conscience formation and the Internal Forum, not only to implement the pathway to sacramental participation outlined in the Joy of Love but even more fundamentally to illuminate a core element of Christian discipleship itself
- Challenge V – Bring Depth to Family Life
- Create a diocesan office for family spirituality
- Create a parish culture of faith which welcomes and fosters family participation in prayer and liturgy
- Establish local centers to support family spiritual life
Challenge I – Witness to Both the Beauty and Realism of the Catholic Vision of Marriage and Family Life
Three Proposals in Order of Priority
I-A: Create a parish environment that nurtures and celebrates marriage
- Pastor to appoint a ministry team to implement marriage ministry objectives.
- Celebrate marriage anniversaries regularly in the parish to include 1, 5 etc. and not just 25 and 50 years.
- Send anniversary cards to parishioners
- Celebrate World Marriage Day at both diocesan and parish level
- Have longest marriage couple contest
- Encourage parishes to have events to celebrate marriage and renewal of marriage not forgetting younger couples
- Create parish experiences for couples such as retreats and socials for couples with children and without
- Gather couples connected to a regular liturgy
- Have deacons and priests preach about marriage
- Make better use of the Prayer of the Faithful
- Create more family friendly liturgies
- Make creative use of the website
I-B: Create married couples mentor groups at the parish and/or at deanery level
- Create married couples support groups
- Diocesan training for mentors
- Acknowledge the struggles of marriage and family life
- Develop networking between parishes to share resources
- Engage military families
- Develop parish marriage preparation follow-up, mentoring and sponsors.
- Explore doing pre-cana possibly on the deanery level as well as celebrations
I-C: Make education in faith for all ages more effective as the foundation for sacramental marriage
- Provide on-going formation for priests regarding the sacrament of marriage
- Have workshops for marriage renewal with cultural sensitivity
- Diocese to provide training for parish ministry teams.
- Make Catholic education more affordable through intense diocesan fundraising efforts
- Inform and engage all Catholics in formation on marriage thru social media and the internet
- Focus on Catholic teaching and specifically sacramental marriage
- Use parish facilities for pre-school and after-school formation programs
- Deacon couples teach about marriage
- Provide education, materials & resources NFP and the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception
Challenge II – Form a Culture of Invitation and Hospitality to Unmarried Couples
Three Proposals in Order of Priority
II-A: Establish parish-based mentors to welcome and accompany young adult and couples into full participation of church life
- Invite young adults to take on leadership and liturgical roles in parishes
- Form groups of parish “ambassador couples” in deaneries and clusters to accompany couples through the process of preparing for marriage and afterwards
- Invite “ambassador couples” who like to listen, are very personable, non-judgmental, confidential, and can share faith
- Create a pilot program for parish based mentors/ambassador couples with diocesan support identifying proper resources, methodologies, and experiences
- Expand social events such as Theology on Tap, Catholic Sports, and other experiences for couples
- Expand small group faith formation such as nights of reflection, adoration, praise and worship, Bible studies, catechesis and other ways to engage young couples
- Parish priests can be creative about hosting young adults/couples
- Inform and invite Pastors to participate
- Affirm that Pastors are among the most effective mentors of presence and welcome for each parish
II-B: Form a diocesan task force to establish best practices on support for couples preparing for marriage
- Evaluate current marriage prep programs, and explore what they would like to see in future marriage prep experiences
- Analyze data of local demographics for young adults and those not married in the church
- Explore best practices of marriage support
- Explore what is working best in some ecclesial movements such as Couples for Christ and others
- Explore what is working in other churches
- Create a welcome package
- Training on how to teach good relationship skills
II-C: Foster a culture of inclusion for couples in all stages of their relationship
- Accompany couples to a deeper experience of Christian marriage
- Explore the hope of celebrating marriage in the Catholic Church
Challenge III – Welcome, Nurture and Form Children
Three Proposals in Order of Priority
III-A: Create experiences and resources that educate and evangelize children and their families in the Faith
- Establish a Diocesan Task Force to investigate and distill “best practices” for children’s ministry and parish involvement
- Visit Deaneries to train lay leaders in these new strategies, leaving ample room for the particularities of each parish community
- These child centered practices should touch all aspects of parish life, including social, sacramental, liturgical, education, service, and retreats
- Survey desires and needs of children and families. (Parish level)
- Through Faith formation
- After Mass
- Via social media
- Diocesan–Tap into existing resources
III-B: Create Parish small groups to cultivate Faith and relationships among families
- Need to be Christ-centered and sociable; Faith should be gently guided according to the formation of the group.
- Sociality and Faith within small groups are not mutually exclusive.
- Parish Guidance
- Groups by ages of children
- Fun, Faith and Fellowship.
- designated volunteer, sponsor family
- Priest or deacon to visit small groups on an annual basis
- Outcomes: Experiential, relational, catechesis/evangelization
- Experiential/catechesis and evangelization: age appropriate faith based catechetical activities
- Relational: supporting the formation of relationships outside of the parish context
III-C: Identify and minister to families who are alone, isolated or on the margins in our parish communities
- Survey to identify a specific groups within the parish boundaries
- Examples of constituencies
- Military realities which impact mobility, brevity of time in parish and one parent bringing child/children when one spouse is on deployment
- Immigrants and refugees
- Complexities with different stages in life such as divorced, widowed and single parent
- Social justice concerns in witnessing to those on the margins of society in a parish
- Establish a welcoming/hospitality committee within each parish
- Identify families/existing ministries to facilitate
- Create community partnerships and liaisons
- Outside agencies should refer Catholics to parish and parish should refer parishioners to available agencies (mutual referral)
Challenge IV – Provide Authentic Pastoral Support for those who are Divorced
Three Proposals in Order of Priority
IV-A: Create a culture of support for those in all stages of separation and divorce
- Provide support regarding grief, pain, and loss
- Incorporate sensitivity to cultural and generational differentiations
- Include all in community, Catholic and non-Catholic
- Utilize existing resources and make available to parishes
- Formalize a parish-based mentoring program
- Provide education, based on canon law, on the annulment process and remarriage
- Find creative ways to reach out to divorced Catholics who are away from the church
IV-B: Reconfigure the Marriage and Family Office to include a director focusing on all stages of separation and divorce
- Recruit, convene, and direct a working group to develop elements of a parish-based diocesan ministry
- Implement the process developed by the working group to bring the divorce ministry to parishes
- Provide guidance on the annulment process in collaboration with the Tribunal.
- Serve the separated, divorced, and remarried populations
IV-C: Provide formation in the areas of conscience formation and the Internal Forum, not only to implement the pathway to sacramental participation outlined in the Joy of Love but even more fundamentally to illuminate a core element of Christian discipleship itself
- Provide forums on conscience formation for pastoral leadership: priests, deacons, religious, and lay leader
- Evaluate current programs of faith formation for children, youth, and adults regarding conscience formation
- Identify and develop resources including print, web-based, video, and other media on conscience formation
- Incorporate catechesis on external forum and internal forum in programs of adult faith formation
Challenge V – Bring Depth to Family Life
Three Proposals in Order of Priority
V-A: Create a diocesan office for family spirituality
- Provide marriage preparation and ongoing support of marriage as a vocation
- Develop resources for parishes to minister to families (i.e divorced, single-parent, widowed, deployed, deported, special needs, multigenerational households, LGBT)
- Develop resources for family activities to promote family unity/solidarity
- Publish a handbook of resources for family prayer and spirituality for the home
- Sponsor days of prayer and retreats for couples, families and festivals of faith for children at an annual diocesan “open house”
- Identify, screen and train spiritual directors for Catholics through the Diocesan Institute
- Identify counselors who appreciate and value the faith dimension of Catholic families
V-B: Create a parish culture of faith which welcomes and fosters family participation in prayer and liturgy
- Invite “Family” participation
- Greeting, mentoring new families and struggling families
- Attempt to use the prayer of the mass to invite children to understand what is going on and make them feel welcome and engage
- Provide childcare- Masses and parish activities
- Connect cultural expressions to teachings of the church
- Acknowledge, celebrate and bless significant live events
- Connect religious education programs to mass schedule
V-C: Establish local centers to support family spiritual life
- Coordinate within deaneries to identify and provide spaces and services to spiritually support families (i.e. counseling, retreats and a variety of prayer experiences)
Synod Reflection, Sunday afternoon
Family life can me messy. As it turns out, so can synod discussions of family life.
Sometimes in church we downplay the difficulties and the messiness. For example, the Swanson image of “Flight to Egypt” on our worship aid. I don’t know about all of you mothers out there, but after I gave birth—after the stitches and the hemorrhoids and the sore nipples—all the stuff we aren’t supposed to discuss in polite company—after that experience of the concrete reality of childbirth, I can’t imagine sitting serenely on a donkey for a cross-country journey.
If you’ve ever baked a cake with a three year old, or cleaned up after a teenager’s slumber party, you know that kids are good at making messes.
I think we need to resist any urge to “tidy up” our Synod experience too much.
My first reflection, then, is that God blesses our messes. We heard proclaimed yesterday the infancy narrative from the gospel of Matthew. Luke’s version of the story is no tidier.
Anyone who has given birth—or witnessed it –knows that the serene nativity scenes we often contemplate to remember the incarnation are a little too neat and tidy. Luke’s gospel tells the story of a pregnant teenager and her betrothed who journeyed a long distance only to find that there was “no room in the inn.” You know the story– As her labor pains began, they found shelter in a stable, and that’s where Mary gave birth to Jesus. The first witnesses were barnyard animals, whose hay became the bed linens for the child. As we heard Bishop remind us yesterday, Matthew’s account of the story has Mary and Joseph on a journey to Egypt—refugees—trusting in God, step by step, gradually, making their way towards safety.
There is nothing easy or serene or tidy or silent about the way God entered our world in the incarnation. As I reflect on this, it strikes me that this is a story about God’s vulnerability. God entered into the chaos of everyday life. And what is God’s answer? Does God “fix it” and make everything tidy and neat? No, God blesses the messiness. God comes in the midst of family life, messy though it is.
Jesus’s ministry to the marginalized in his own day was treated with suspicion. His table fellowship, his welcoming of the other, his willingness to talk to and befriend women. There was nothing “neat and tidy” about Jesus’s ministry and the “unschooled, ordinary” disciples with whom he kept company (Acts 4). And of course, when we consider the way Jesus died, we are challenged to ask ourselves what it means to enter into solidarity with those suffering today, knowing how God redeems us through brokenness. Jesus’s death was messy. We have faith that God transforms humiliation and suffering, that new life can come after grief and death. But that doesn’t make it easy.
I am filled with gratitude that Bishop McElroy thought it was a good idea to invite the laity to participate alongside our clergy in this experience of synod. As church, as people of God, we are all in this together, discerning the call of the Spirit to animate our discipleship.
So many of us have felt God’s presence in our ordinary family life experiences, and here we are trying to figure out how to strengthen that awareness. Pope Francis tells us to focus on “concrete realities” of family life and to be “humble and realistic.” (31, 35).
God comes into our midst through the stuff of life—through people who don’t have all the answers but listen to our questions, through friends who encourage us when we feel overwhelmed, and pastors who offer words of wisdom in dark days. Another lesson I see is that one does not have to overcome one’s imperfections to be in union with God. Even imperfect people experience God’s grace. “Jesus never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery, says the pope” (38). God is with me even as I struggle. God is with me in all my woundedness, messiness, forgetfulness, and sin. Indeed, God works through the vulnerable. God depends on everyday heroes like Mary and Joseph—people of faith who are willing to take risks to be faithful to God’s call. But God does not force or compel us. God invites.
How is God inviting us, nudging us, calling us, at this Synod? Where are those places of staleness that need refreshment? What is boring and needs more life? Where are we overwhelmed and in need of hope? Where are we falling and in need of rescue?
We celebrate the God who is present in the ordinary, frightening, messy, beautiful everyday moments of our lives. But that doesn’t mean that God is satisfied with the status quo. God invites us to be partners in the transformation of the world—to shine a light in a land of gloom, to bear one another’s burdens, to work for justice, to be peacemakers.
We don’t all have to do this in the same way. Remember when Pope Francis visited the US Congress, he raised up Abe Lincoln, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr, and Thomas Merton. Each had a different way of approaching discipleship. Each of us has to discern in conscience how to live out our deeply held values, and we might understand those and live those differently in light of our unique circumstances and unique gifts. This weekend we have come together as church—to seek unity in our diversity—knowing that our diversity is a strength, but we may experience it as messiness. But let us remember that being church has never been simple.
In our last meetings together of this synod, may we open our hearts to the God of surprises, inviting God in all the ways you want to come to us and live through us. And as we leave here later today, let us remember to celebrate love—wherever it is found—and to encourage growth, even in small gradual steps. Let us return to our lives more confident of the ways in which God is already there with us, any time we are mending broken relationships, comforting the grieving, standing up against abuse or indignity, bearing one another’s burdens. We ask God to Help us to say “yes” to your birthing within us. Even as we trust that God blesses our messes.
d McBrien, National Catholic Reporter Ad advent reflections by Dorothy Day linked on Catholic Worker webpage.
Associate Director, Separated and Divorced Ministry
Phone: (858) 490-8292