Often in a conversation, as in prayer, our defenses get triggered when we hear something that contradicts our understandings and beliefs and it is hard to remain open. Let us pray that we will always be open to the Holy Spirit, in the model of our Blessed Mother, that we, the church, can accept the Holy Spirit and do the will of God. Such a prayer, if it is to be effective, starts with listening.
The Synod on the Family, as a pastoral forum, sought to open conversation on current pastoral concerns of the church. While the encouragement of marriage, family, children was likely a goal, what has dominated conversation were other topics, particularly the challenge of Catholics who are married, divorced and remarried. This topic was raised in last year’s preparations and continued throughout the synod. An instinct to jump to defend the church teaching should be considered. Scriptures also informs the framework of a reaction.
In MT 19, Jesus verbally responds to the Pharisees’ “test” question of divorce. The context of Jesus’ words warrant attention. In JN 4, with the Pharisees as a backdrop, Jesus heads back to Galilee through the foreign land of Samaria. On his journey he shows us, in his private ministry, the pastoral approach to meeting a woman who had been married multiple times. He approaches her, he invites the conversation, and continues his approach even after she finds reason to deny his request. Eventually, through this conversational approach, she accepts him. By the time she leaves the well, she not only fully accepted and received Jesus, she became one of his earliest evangelists, bringing others from her estranged and foreign territory to accepting him as the savior of the world.
And so a pastoral challenge is presented by the large number of those who have had marriages that have failed and are now remarried: how does the church, through its ministers, meet those at the “well”? And, what will bring those at the well to the fullness of belief, so having met him, and having had their thirst quenched with the endless water of eternal life, they, too, will go and bring others to know and accept the savior of the world? These two texts could be valuable to informing a direction on the topic.
As an arbiter and guide of the discussion, Jesus leaves us the final chapter of John’s Gospel (JN 21), through which he sets an emphatic standard of care for Peter and the church: if you love Christ, you will tend (care/walk with/shepherd/feed/love) his sheep (people/those coming to know their shepherd and savior). It is this standard that I hope we all will pray, informs our conversations, fills our prayers, and opens our hearts more fully to where he is leading us.
So, like Mary, may we walk in faith, not knowing where God’s Holy Spirit leads us, but trusting in his abiding love, care and fidelity. Most Holy Spirit please guide each of us, guide our families and guide our church.