My memories of the notorious sixties are not the free love and abandon of the sexual revolution but the incredible revival of the Catholic Church at Vatican II and the civil rights marches upending Jim Crow. In that decade we experienced finding a way where there is no way. The impossible can come to be.
The Second Vatican Council proved to be a crack that let the light of the modern world into the Church and let the Church loose in the world to do the work of justice and mercy. The most revolutionary document of Vatican II called the people of God to solidarity with the least among us—“the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of this world especially the poor and afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of God” (Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #1).
Many Catholics have learned to put their faith into action and do the works of mercy and justice that Gaudium et Spes calls forth. Liberation theologies arose in Latin America and spread as ways to give voice to people at the base of society and work with them for justice. Pope Francis deliberately set the Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin December 8, the golden anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which passed at the very end of the Council. Pope Francis wants Vatican II to live and evolve.
I hoped the Synod on the Family might turn out to be a mini-Vatican II. It met in October for three weeks after meeting for its first session in fall 2014. After the first session Pope Francis called for consultation and listening sessions with the people of God in dioceses throughout the world. Although the official consultation questions proved unusable, people found ways to communicate their insights and family issues to their bishops and Rome.
At the synod Pope Francis called for bold and frank talk. He had bishops work in small groups to interact more. The heads of religious orders auditing the synod ceded three of their six seats to women, so their three minutes each are in the record.
The 270 bishops who gathered aren’t exactly family men. Some note they hear about family problems in hearing confessions. Perhaps some have carried the smell of the dirty diapers or a baby’s spit-up from helping out with nieces and nephews or friends’ children. Perhaps they have stood in for grandparents or aunts and uncles, corralled two year olds, lived their drama with adolescents, and scrounged rent when a boss cut back work hours. Perhaps they have paid the rent for a person at the backdoor of the parish house.
I hoped that 270 bishops would bless remarried couples. Pope Francis sped up annulments. The synod kept the door open by urging pastors to work with couples case by case and respect their consciences. I hoped the 270 bishops could hear the sensus fidelium on the issue of contraception and pronounce the time of death. The people of God have widely exercised their consciences on this issue. I hoped the 270 bishops could accept that moms and moms and dads and dads can love and commit to each other and raise children. But that would have been a surprise and – shock in some African countries where homosexuality is illegal.
Perhaps for a bishop it is hard to go forward without making past judgments seem fallible. But in an evolutionary cosmos God comes to us from the future, urging us to all we can become, not just from the past. The Holy Spirit has been at work in our world, making it new from the beginning. The gospel has been at work for 2000 years, teaching us to keep the two great commandments. We keep on.
These are the hopes of an educated white woman in North America. I’m not a widow in Kenya who wonders what will become of the ten AIDs orphans she has taken in, nor am I a dad carrying a child on his back on the walk from Syria to safety in Germany.
Many cannot imagine marriage or civil union between same sex couples. Since the seventies I have wondered why the Church and society doesn’t expect fidelity of same sex couples just as we do of men and women. This is happening now that GBLTQ relationships are more out and public. Partners I know reveal everyday they can love each other, their children, their parents, their friends. The word is out they can keep the two great commandments of Jesus in the gospels. We of the Church need to work at realigning moral law with biological science, Jesus’ gospel message, and people’s lives today.
“We discover the possible from the real.” Karl Rahner
Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ