Real-life experience can strengthen church teaching, bishops tell synod

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Catholics see couples who are patient, kind, never jealous or rude, they “behold the beauty and simplicity and strength of married love,” but the church also must learn to help and to heal those whose dreams for lifelong love have been shattered, said Scottish Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow.

“We must have compassion for the pain and laceration of the human hearts caught up in separation, betrayal and divorce,” the archbishop said Oct. 8, giving a brief reflection during the opening prayer for the day’s session of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

The archbishop’s remarks focused on the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The reading is one proposed to couples for use at their wedding, and the archbishop said those about to be married read it and think, “That’s so beautiful. I want my love, our love, to be like that: patient and kind, trusting, enduring, faithful, lasting forever.”

“In a family,” he said, “there is every opportunity to be patient and kind and excusing and trusting. There is every opportunity to renew faithfulness to one another by laughing together, crying together, supporting one another, saying sorry to one another, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, embracing one another, being happy for each other, just knowing the right word at the right time.”

For the church’s pastors and for the wider community, the archbishop said, it is a privilege to observe that love in action and it is not difficult to recognize in it “a love which truly, through the grace of Christ, endures all things.”

But when marriages fall apart, he said, “love is the first casualty,” hatred can take root and division becomes the most obvious characteristic of the relationship. “Children’s peace of heart is shattered and they find themselves both loving and hating their parents at the same time.”

The Catholic Church is called to be present in those situations, too, and to show them that despite their experience love is a reality, he said.

“St. Paul’s words encourage us to find a way to uphold God’s holy purpose in marriage and in the family while also upholding those for whom that purpose has become almost impossible to attain,” Archbishop Tartaglia said. “In times of distress and misfortune, people still instinctively turn to the church for hope and consolation and inspiration. We must not fail them.”

Addressing the synod Oct. 7, Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin also spoke of the obligation to bring healing and hope to people whose marriages have failed.

According to a summary of his remarks released by the Irish bishops’ conference, Archbishop Martin told the synod, “Jesus himself accompanied his preaching the good news with a process of healing the wounded and welcoming those on the margins. His teaching was never disincarnated and unmoved by the concrete human situation in which people could come to be embraced by the good news. Jesus’ care for the sick and the troubled and those weighed down by burdens is the key which helps to understand how he truly is the Son of God.”

When it comes to marriage and family life, he said, too often the church appears to be speaking in a vacuum, using terminology that does not acknowledge the lived experience of the Catholic faithful, even those who “actually live out the value of marital fidelity day by day, at times heroically.”

“The experience of failure and struggle cannot surely be irrelevant in arriving at the way we proclaim the church’s teaching on marriage and the family.” he added.

The need to listen to the faithful’s experience is not simply a tool for framing the church’s message, he said; it has a theological value since it affirms the truth that every Christian relies on the mercy and grace of God to live the Christian life.

“The church must also listen to where God is speaking to the church through the witness of those Christian married couples who struggle and fail and begin again in the concrete situations of the harshness of life today and fail again,” the summary said.

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