The Synod on the Family continues to garner banner headlines in the media, especially the mainstream media. Sadly, we are getting mixed messages about what the Bishops are discussing on a daily basis. It might be a good time to talk about how we as pew sitting Catholics should react to and how we can learn from and discern for ourselves what the church is teaching.
St. Ignatius of Loyola came up with a simple five step process of rules for discernment that I have used over the years. I will use these steps to show how to come to understanding with Church teaching.
Just this week the Synod made a statement affirming that children deserve to grow up in a family which has both a mother and a father. To some this seems to exclude single parents, and those in so-called same sex unions raising children. How do we as pew sitting Catholics come to understand this statement?
Step 1). Assume that the Church Knows what It is Talking About
The Bishops aren’t just participating in wild mass guessing at a Synod. They have information and testimony from many experts such as psychologists, medical professionals, social workers, and child development/family systems experts. They also have the tradition of over two thousand years of experience looking back on how changes in family systems have affected child development throughout history. They might just know a little bit more than you or I do right out of the gate.
It makes sense for us to start from a place of assuming that they know what they are talking about. It might be a good idea for us to read the documents of the Synod as they are released, so we can see how they come to their opinions. These documents are all available through the Vatican website, in English and easily readable, to say anything about what the Bishop’s say without having read their actual written statement makes no sense.
2) Do Your Own Research to Aide in Your Understanding of the Topic
Read the citations in the document if you have them available to you. Read other information on child development and family systems ( not what you see on Facebook, but from reputable sources). Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the subject as you can. This article is one example of what is available on the Internet.
3) Talk to Someone Who Knows More Than You Do On The Subject
It might be a good idea to talk to someone within the Church, such as a priest, if you have questions about how a Synod works. If you have questions about Church teachings your parish priest or another priest you know will be able to help you understand doctrine and dogma, and how to find resources to help you learn more.
4) Take it to Prayer
Spend time in prayer asking God for guidance of you still have questions about the topic. Allow God a chance to assist in your understanding.
5) If You Still Have Disagreement with the Church, Hold it in Silent Tension to Your Faith
If after all of the above work you have done you still disagree with the Synod’s statement you should, for the sake of not leading any others into scandal, keep your disagreement in silent tension with your faith. You have done everything you can do to understand the Church’s position. You have done what you can to learn about the topic. You have offered yourself to God in prayer for understanding. You cannot make a statement saying the Church is wrong for anyone else.
But, we owe it to ourselves to continue the process of discernment using these steps repeatedly on a subject we hold in silent tension, because sometimes we are slow learners. I know that where I have had silent tension with the church on one topic or another in my youth, as I have grown in faith and wisdom, and used this process over and over, my understanding and opinion has matured and come in line with the Church’s position.