One of the advantages of being not only a priest but also a husband and father, is that I have some insight regarding parenting in the 21st Century. This can prove helpful in the confessional or when preparing couples for marriage and baptism. I speak as one who shares the struggles to get it right. As one who has staggered along the landing half asleep, at 3am in the morning, desperately trying to pacify a mewling infant only for it to burp rather suddenly and deposit the contents of it’s stomach over my back!
Such experiences rid one of unrealistic and romanticised views of marriage and family life. Lets get real. It is a joy to have a family but also a challenge. And when one factors in the need to raise children in love, it is also a most profound responsibility. If I am honest it always feels beyond my ability. For every positive I might bring to the family table there seem to be equal and opposing negatives. What wounds we fallen sinners inflict on children by our own bad habits, hard words and inability to love as truly we should. Even though our hearts burst with love for our children!
So it thrilled me when the church announced a Synod on the family. Heaven knows there are burning issues at present that confront the Catholic family and make the job all that much harder! We need help, we really do. And I want to share some questions I had hoped, as a parent, the Synod might address.
1) How do we help our children navigate a hostile secular culture? The faith we would love to instil in our children is under serious attack in the public square. I was raised in a culture of ambivalence which, at least, paid lip service to the truth of the Gospel. My children will grow up in a more hostile environment where the faith is challenged and ridiculed in most every classroom, lecture hall and newspaper. What help is the church planning to give parents to support them in transmitting the faith, in such a positive way that our children are enabled to stand up for truth against scrutiny?
Sorry but most parishes today, I include my own, are not cutting the mustard in this regard. Recognising then that the church has largely failed to hold onto the youth over the last half century- losing several generations of young adults in the process- what is it planning to do differently to ensure it doesn’t lose the next generation as well?
Will it be brave enough to acknowledge that young families seem most drawn to orthodox parishes today where emphasis is placed on apologetics and commitment not on dated models where teaching is dumbed down to accommodate the culture? Within this arena- what is to be done about the standards of many Catholic schools when it comes to transmitting an emboldened and firm faith? They seem to have lost their zeal.
2) How can I protect my children’s purity? The current culture is dangerously over sexualised and the proliferation of internet pornography is causing untold damage to marriages. It is corrupting and warping young minds. How can I shield my children from these vile images- given that they are shown on most every playground thanks to those clever phones? What work is being done, by the Church, to combat pornography head on and ensure governments censor content and stop it being so freely available? This is a big one.
3) How do I give my children a healthy understanding of marriage? How will my children accept Catholic teaching, that sex is intended for marriage between one man and one woman for life, given that the culture is itself redefining marriage to the detriment of children?
And why do some church leaders seem to echo the culture? What is the Church planning to do about high ranking clergy who openly dissent from the teaching of the church? For they are sowing terrible confusion at the peril of souls, that is if the historic voice of the church is to be believed. And if it isn’t to be believed anymore…then why not? And why should my children believe anything the church has to say? Will the church give us clarity of teaching as regards sex and family life? Because it is sorely lacking at present…despite all the noise.
3) Who will help us model family life? Given the attack on marriage and family life how will you truly support married people? Because at present the church only offers little to married couples save for a little pre marriage prep.
This is of no help when couples later encounter difficulties, when finances are mismanaged or serious arguments develop. Often it is too late when couples access help – and they do so within a secular context which can even encourage the idea of divorce in certain cases. What then could the church do to better support and nurture families, holding them together?
4) Why haven’t you consulted married clergy? One might have assumed a largely celibate priesthood would look to its few married members for advice. Why haven’t dioceses consulted with priests who are actually married? Why hasn’t the vatican approached the married Ordinaries placing them on the panel drawn up to discuss family life? Surely they offer unique insight that might be of benefit being not only priests but fathers and husbands as well?
5) Why don’t you speak about children? I have listed a few questions and concerns I have. I would love the Synod to tackle them head on, speaking powerfully and helpfully to parents like myself. So why is it that all we hear about is homosexuality and those in broken families due to divorce and separation? It leaves me scratching my head…
I don’t doubt the importance of reaching out to such people…but I seriously question why they seem to be at the heart of the Synod debates. Where are the needs of children being raised? Where are the needs of those holding onto marriage, often at great cost, addressed? Where are the needs of those with large families highlighted and praised?
Surely it is farcical that this Synod on the family, to date, has said nothing of value to..you know… er actual families??!
It is inexplicable and inexcusable. But what seems to be developing is not a Synod that places children and families at the centre but one in which indulgent in-house clerical spats are being fought along predictable and tired political divides. Someone needs to bang heads together and reminds all the Cardinals that such indulgence only plays into secular hands. As if the church is about left v right when it ought to be centred on right v wrong.
I hope that the Holy Father will yet surprise us. But I won’t hold my breath. Because, to date, this Synod has had nothing say to children or parents. Rather it seems constructed as an arena for the liberalising of church doctrine. I doubt many actual families are much interested in such games. They surely have better things to do. Like actually raising children and trying to put food on the table.