During yesterday morning’s debate at the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin stressed the importance of consulting married couples. He said parents, especially those in the poorer areas, have experienced all the economic and social difficulties which have affected Ireland during a dramatic economic crisis, yet they continue to live the daily realities of family relationships and commitment to the education of their children.
Archbishop Martin is representing the Irish Episcopal Conference at the Synod whose theme is ‘The Pastoral Challenges Facing The Family In The Context Of Evangelisation’. The meeting runs until 19th of October.
The Irish archbishop said many men and women, without making explicit reference to the teaching of the Church, actually live out the value of marital fidelity day-by-day, at times heroically. “They would hardly recognise their own experience in the way we present the ideals of married life. Indeed many in genuine humility would probably feel that they are living a life which is distant from the ideal of marriage as presented by Church teaching.”
The Archbishop added that we need to find a new language for this dialogue between the teaching of the Church and the lived experience of Christian spouses. He said this new language begins with “a theological language of listening”. “To many the language of the Church appears to be a disincarnated language of telling people what to do, a “one way dialogue”. I am in no way saying that the Church is not called to teach. I am not saying that experience on its own determines teaching or the authentic interpretation of teaching. What I am saying is that the lived experience and struggle of spouses can help find more effective ways of expression of the fundamental elements of Church teaching. Jesus himself accompanied his preaching the good news with a process of healing the wounded and welcoming those on the margins. His teaching was never disincarnated and unmoved by the concrete human situation in which people could come to be embraced by the Good News. Jesus’ care for the sick and the troubled and those weighed down by burdens is the key which helps to understand how he truly is the Son of God.”
Archbishop Martin said the Church must also listen to where God is speaking to the Church through the witness of those Christian married couples who struggle and fail and begin again in the concrete situations of the harshness of life today and fail again. “The experience of failure and struggle cannot surely be irrelevant in arriving at the way we proclaim the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.” he added.
He said the sacrament of marriage is a gift given for the building up of the Church in holiness. Marriage thus holds a special ecclesial status. Lumen Gentium notes that “Christian married couples help one another to attain holiness in their married life”. As an ecclesial reality the witness and holiness of married couples contributes also to the building up and the understanding of the Church. Thus consulting married couples is not simply an option which we take up on special occasions. The authentic living out of the married vocation, sanctified by a sacrament, can become in a unique way a true theological source. Familiaris Consortio spoke of the law of graduality rather a graduality of the law. There is still difficulty in accepting the significance of human endeavour which fails to reach the high ideals but is part of the struggle for perfection. None of us would be capable of living the teaching of our calling in the Church without the help of the mercy of God.”