Most Holy Father,
Dear brother Bishops and fellow participants,
The anthropological cultural context of the family (Instrumentum laboris, Chapter One) neatly links this Synod with that of the New Evangelization.
The focus of the 2012 Synod reminded us that in many countries the majority of those who identify themselves as Catholic (cf. census statistics) do not gather for Mass on Sundays. Analysis of them indicated clusters: the first marriage of a significant portion had come to grief; some were homosexual; and many simply did not recognise themselves in the language we use to describe marriage and the family. In New Zealand, the questionnaires of this present Synod prompted many responses from these same groupings. They, whom some describe as having drifted from the Church, in fact harbour a yearning to belong but their experience is one of being beyond the Church. For them the greatest cause of suffering is rejection – whether perceived or real. That suffering affects the wealthy as well as the poor.
Most of our people, however, including the disaffected, find personal encounters with our priests and parish workers positive and encouraging. For this we give thanks. It seems therefore that where renewal is most required is within the framework and language with which our faith is communicated at a public level. When people hear themselves as being an object of judgement rather than a subject of worth, rejection is most felt.
Our Lord’s encounters with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-30) and the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11), and with Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) and Matthew (Mt 9:9-13), and so many others, are not exceptional cases; they are the normative pattern of the Christian way. Mercy is common to them all. While we tend to experience mercy on the level of affectivity, of equal significance is what we might call the epistemological consequence of mercy, captured in the Holy Father’s motto (miserando atque eligendo; Venerable Bede, Homily 21). Filled with mercy, our Lord is able to comprehend the tax collector Matthew in a new way recognizing within him an already existing goodness to which others had been blind.
Could not this sense of mercy, which unlocks in the heart of the beholder a deeper truth about the other, help us when we come to consider a particular category of those who suffer rejection: persons with homosexual tendencies? The mercy for which they yearn is not one of pity but of comprehension of the truth of who and how they are. Decoupled from the question of same sex marriage which will never be part of the Christian way, the Church’s theologians can engage seriously with the voices of science that say sexual orientation is neither a personal choice nor a matter of social conditioning but rests in the deepest ontological makeup of the individual and thus forms part of the mystery of human nature which is good.
Such a dialogue of theology and science (cf. Fides et Ratio, 69) would deepen our understanding of the anthropological cultural context in which we evangelize, and would do much to protect the credibility of the Church, including our claim to be a people of mercy and truth.
+Charles E Drennan
Bishop of Palmerston North