I must admit, I’m not especially keen on the occasional pleas that we have heard for the Synod to be more attentive to “faithful” families, the thinking being that they need the Church’s pastoral care, too.
This came most prominently in a recent blog post from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, whom I respect a great deal and whose pastoral intuition is very often precisely on target (as I’ve noted on this blog here, here, and here). In a post he titled “Inclusion of the New Minority,” he opened noting that the theme of “inclusion” is a “very refreshing, consistent theme of the synod” and that the church “welcomes everyone, especially those who may feel excluded.” He continued:
Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church? I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony– approach the Church for the sacrament; Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church! I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.
Where do they receive support and encouragement? From TV? From magazines or newspapers? From movies? From Broadway? From their peers? Forget it!
They are looking to the Church, and to us, for support and encouragement, a warm sense of inclusion. We cannot let them down!
I saw it again more recently in a post by the popular and often very thoughtful Elizabeth Scalia. She went on at length about all of the “faithful families” who are “being under-served, and wandering about in serious pain and confusion because the pastors are distracted and delayed.”
These are the “faithful intact families” who follow church teachings, and the “faithful intact families” who suffer very real difficulties of all kinds, and the “faithful families” who have divorced and received or need annulments (not those who have divorced and remarried without annulments), and the “faithful families” who are “trying to figure out how to remain true to the Church and true to the love for their family members who are same-sex attracted”… A whole list of “faithful” people who need the Church’s attention. And the problem is, she says, that all of the attention the Synod is giving in its discussions of how to care for what we can only presume to be the “unfaithful” people is a “waste valuable time not discussing an awful lot of wounded sheep.” Someone, she says, needs to stand up and bang a few heads together and get these synod fathers back on track.
These cries for more pastoral attention to the faithful leave me feeling uncomfortable.
First of all, there’s no question that all Catholics, even the most faithful, need pastoral care. I won’t argue with that.
Second, the distinction between the “faithful” ones and the “unfaithful” ones baffles me a little. It seems to suggest there are certain sins and situations that define who gets to be called “faithful.” Do any of those intact-family parents cheat on their taxes, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? Any of those intact-family dads who dabble in online pornography, and if so do they still get to be called faithful? How about those parents of “same-sex attracted” children (really, it’s okay to say “gay”) who have failed once or twice in making their children feel loved and welcome? Are they still faithful?
But here’s the thing that nags at me about the posts above. Hasn’t most of the Church’s time in recent decades — indeed, recent centuries — been devoted to the care of these very faithful people? And is it really so troubling if the shepherds take some time to really give serious thought and discussion to how to offer pastoral care to the most difficult situations or those farthest from the Church? Do we think that such pastoral attention leaves the “faithful” ones without care, as though those very shepherds can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? And what does such a stance say about our response to the call to a new evangelization of the world?
I’m a member of one of those families I think (hope) Elizabeth would put in the category of “faithful.” There were a few years, early on, when my wife and I were living in an “irregular” situation (we may have been “unfaithful” then). But we did what we needed to do, went through the processes we needed to attend to, and abstained from receiving Communion throughout that that time (so maybe we were faithful after all). For a long time now we’ve been “in good standing” with the Church and working hard to raise what I truly hope is a faithful Catholic family.
And as one of those faithful, I say to the Synod fathers: I am happy to cede some of the time you spend caring for me and thinking about me to the faraway sheep, those who are more hurting or more angry than I have ever imagined being, those for whom talk of God’s love and mercy (which I know deeply and rejoice in regularly) is nothing but a foreign language. Talk about them. Pray about them. Argue about them. Listen to them. Learn from them. In doing so, you are at the very same time teaching me and my own family how to be better Christians and a more faithful family as well.