Mixing it up: Synod members turn to metaphor to get message across

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis may be the universal church’s undisputed master of metaphor and analogy, but other members of the Synod of Bishops on the family are showing a willingness to use snappy images to get their points across, too.

Take the lighthouse beacon and the torch. According to synod briefers, who cannot tell reporters which synod member said what, one bishop Oct. 7 told the assembly that the light the church brings to its members is not fixed like a lighthouse on the shore but is a torch that accompanies the pilgrimage of those seeking to live the truth.

Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti, and Cardinal Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, retired archbishop of Pamplona, Spain, arrive for the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti, and Cardinal Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, retired archbishop of Pamplona, Spain, arrive for the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 8. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Speaking about the challenge of transmitting church teaching on sexuality and married life to modern men and women, the bishop reportedly said the torch of faith and truth lights the path of believers; the proclamation of truth cannot be like using a beacon to blind people.

“It was an image to help the synod accept the attitude we are called to have as the synod progresses,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Another synod member, according to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, made “a sobering point: ‘We are not doctors who can heal every single disease or ailment.’ That means let’s not become despairing or hopeless because we don’t have the solutions to every problem that emerges, but we do have the language of mercy that can help people.”

Father Rosica, the briefer for English-speaking journalists, said “the medicine of mercy” was referred to several times in the synod, with members quoting St. John XXIII who told bishops at the Second Vatican Council that their task was not to place more burdens upon the people of God, but to administer the “medicine of mercy.”

The term “medicine,” Father Rosica said, indicates the church recognizes there are problems and failures, but it also sees its task as bringing healing.

Pope Francis’ description of the church as a “field hospital” adopting emergency life-saving measures — not simply offering tests to determine the faithful’s cholesterol levels — has been echoed numerous times in the synod hall, the briefers said.

According to a synod briefing paper released by the Vatican press office, one synod member warned that if the church does not dedicate its energy to being a “field hospital,” it easily could become a “mortuary performing autopsies” on failed marriages.

Responding to reporters’ questions Oct. 8, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, said synod members who support pastoral flexibility in dealing with people in irregular situations are not promoting “marriage-lite” or a weakening of the lifelong bond of marriage, they want to meet those people, support them and, hopefully, lead them closer to holiness.

Pope Francis urged pastors to do so in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” the archbishop said, “even if we run the risk of getting dirty from the mud along the path.”

The Gospel, Archbishop Fernandez said, also should arrive at the places where the prostitutes and tax collectors live, “where the biggest sinners are” — that’s the example Jesus gave his followers.

He said too often people depict Jesus’ Sacred Heart as so “beautiful that it’s as if it’s a woman, right? But a shepherd in the Old Testament, in the Bible, is a man who is really dirty. He never combs his hair, he’s covered with dirt because he is with his sheep day and night. He smells. It is not pleasing to look at him and stand next to him — that’s the good shepherd Jesus spoke about.”

“The pope himself told us: Speak clearly, you don’t need to hide anything, don’t be afraid that Cardinal (Gerhard L.) Muller (prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) will get on your back. Speak clearly because otherwise we will never come to a synthesis of what the Lord is asking of us. But also listen to each other with great humility because everyone has something to teach you,” the archbishop said.

The idea, he said, is that if the Lord has taught a priest or bishop something through his ministry, “I should not hide this from my brothers.”

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