Gather Us In:
Pondering the Upcoming Synod
on Family & Church
Jesus was a gatherer. He invited lowly fishermen to follow him. Children, who had no status at all, were summoned, “Come to me.” A number of his close friends were women with no rights in that society, and when he saw the reviled Matthew sitting at a table collecting taxes, he simply beckoned him: “Follow me.”
When Jesus gathered people, he had one specific focus: he called sinners. No one was better or worse than another, and each of them, and each of us, is deeply loved and forgiven.
It’s that same loving and forgiving tone that runs through the preparatory document for the 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family and Marriage. The meeting in Rome in October of 2015 has been much discussed and long awaited.
Many of us know family members and close friends who struggle with the pain of a failed marriage. Divorce, common in Western society, still might feel like a personal failure. People can feel excluded from their old friends and from their Church community.
As the delegates prepare to meet for the Synod, they have sifted through the survey replies of bishops and the people in their dioceses, in response to how the Church can better serve all of us very human sinners.
We are all on a Journey
The approach of the Church seems to recognize that we are all on a journey and that we have all made mistakes and sometimes found ourselves in situations we regret. Perhaps at one point in our life, we rejected authority and rejected the Church’s teachings. We may have ignored the pastoral advice we were given. Some of our marriages were broken.
What is encouraging about the upcoming Synod is the tone of the discussion and conversation taking place. At the heart of the documents is the unwavering belief in the sanctity of marriage. Joined with that is the truth of our fallibility as humans and the compassion and support that is needed for those who suffer in relationships.
Now the Church is asking how those of us who are divorced, divorced and remarried, or living in relationships without marriage can be ministered to and invited to return to the heart of the church.
Those of us who are happily married already know that marriage requires self-sacrifice on both sides, a great love for each other and constant support. If we are also honest, we know that we have been fortunate in our situations in ways that others have not. We have a keen sense of the fragility of relationships and the circumstances that may have supported ours.
All of us know quite well that the situations that lead to divorce do not necessarily mean others are more sinful that we are, only that their “sin” may be more public than ours.
How can the Church Better Understand and Accompany?
The upcoming Synod will address the various complex relationships people find themselves in, and ask how ministers of the Church can be more supportive and helpful for those of us who are divorced. How can the Church care for those of us on this difficult journey – without judging us but seeking to understand and accompany us on the way?
More than that, the Synod ponders how we, who are happily married, by God’s grace, can be supportive and helpful to those who struggle. How can we not only continue growing in our marriage and family vocation, but to be pastorally present to members of our family and friends? We are being invited not to judge them but to accompany them.
The “gathering” tone of the Synod preparatory document feels so similar to the way Jesus gathered us together, and still does. We are the Church of Jesus and we follow in his path, and his tone as he calls us by name.
The beautiful Mary Haugen hymn “Gather Us In” reminds us of that call:
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken,
gather us in, the blind and the lame;
call to us now, and we shall awaken,
we shall arise at the sound of our name.