Our Language Matters...
The recently concluded Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, preparing for next October’s Ordinary Synod on the same topic, reminds me of something that noted Jesuit historian Father John W. O’Malley has written about Vatican II. One of its greatest accomplishments was using a new type of language in Church teaching.
I had the great privilege of being one of O’Malley’s students at the University of Detroit in the fall of 1970.
He has written that the bishops at Vatican II decided to use exhortation more than condemnation. Exhortation will not stops wars, but it may have a better chance of being effective than stiff condemnation—no matter how much the person using condemning language is pleased at its clarity.
When Cardinal Peter Erdo gave the mid-session summary of the synod discussion during its first week, some participants inside (and outside) the synod complained bitterly that the synthesis did not sufficiently reaffirm the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriages, divorce, abortion, and all the other issues facing families today.
On the other hand, Vatican Information Service bulletins reported that several synod participants had observed that the Church needs to rethink the way it speaks to and about people in these situations.
I hope we can agree that zeal for God does not justify every type of language that people may employ to support their position. The final results of the 2015 synod are unlikely to win unanimous approval from its participants and from the larger Church, the People of God.
Cardinal Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna and lead author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, noted during the controversy over Cardinal Erdo’s synthesis that real families can have very sharp disagreements!
The last word has not been written about the 2014 synod—even less about the 2015 synod. In the meantime, we would do well to remember that the word synod means “walking together.”
May all the Church’s members walk together with the openness that caused two disciples on the road to Emmaus to exclaim on Easter Sunday evening (Lk 24:32b), “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Our hearts cannot burn like that unless we listen carefully.
CNS photo/Paul Haring