The People of God’s knowledge of conciliar and post-conciliar documents on the Magisterium of the family seems to be rather wanting, though a certain knowledge of them is clearly evident in those working in the field of theology. The documents, however, do not seem to have taken a foothold in the faithful’s mentality.
Some responses clearly state that the faithful have no knowledge of these documents, while others mention that they are viewed, especially by lay people with no prior preparation, as rather “exclusive” or “limited to a few” and require some effort to take them up and study them. Oftentimes, people without due preparation find difficulty reading these documents. Nevertheless, the responses see a need to show the essential character of the truth affirmed in these documents.
Some observations attribute the responsibility for this lack of knowledge to the clergy, who, in the judgment of some of the faithful, are not sufficiently familiar with the documentation on marriage and the family, nor do they seem to have the resources for development in these areas.
Some observations inferred that the clergy sometimes feel so unsuited and ill-prepared to treat issues regarding sexuality, fertility and procreation that they often choose to remain silent. Some responses also voice a certain dissatisfaction with some members of the clergy who appear indifferent to some moral teachings. Their divergence from Church doctrine leads to confusion among the People of God.
Consequently, some responses ask that the clergy be better prepared and exercise a sense of responsibility in explaining the Word of God and presenting the documents of the Church on marriage and the family.
Instrumentum Laboris for Synod on the Family, 11-12
Reflection – I am presenting bits and pieces of the preparatory document for the Synod over these next days, so we can unite our own minds and hearts to the work going on in Rome and keep the Synod fathers in our prayers.
The Instrumentum is a careful, sober document—a bit dry, really—as is fitting, since it is merely intended to raise the issues that need to be discussed and not answer them. The ‘responses’ mentioned frequently are in reference to the surveys many took part in over the past year.
I don’t need to be too dry and careful, fortunately (it would get a bit dull if I did). Paragraphs 11-12 are about the abysmal failure, on so many levels of the Church, to offer basic catechesis to its members. This, in my opinion, is one of if not the most serious problem in the Church, at least in North America.
We cannot talk about the sensus fidelium, the ability of the faithful in common to know the truth of the Church’s teachings, in a situation where the most basic and essential matters of doctrine and creed have not been presented, even, let alone explained in any kind of meaningful way. So the much touted rejection of the lay faithful of the Church’s teachings on marriage, sex, procreation, which to the more ‘liberal’ wing of the Church means that these ancient and biblical teachings should be jettisoned, is unpersuasive.
A large percentage of the lay faithful cannot name the seven sacraments. They don’t know the Bible. They cannot give an orthodox definition of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, baptism, or Eucharist. They have no idea what the Marian dogmas are or what they mean.
I say this not to fault the lay faithful. Not at all. Whatever guilt there is here lies squarely at the doors of the clergy here, since it is our responsibility to teach the faith. But blame laying is pointless—we all have to come to grips with the widespread ignorance of basic Catholic doctrine and each of us do what we can to remedy it.
This of course directly impinges on the question of marriage and family life, human sexuality and the Church’s teachings on it. I would argue that it is impossible to understand, let alone accept, what the Church says on these matters without knowing their integration into the whole of Christian faith and life. The whole Gospel of sex, marriage, and the family is interwoven necessarily and utterly with the whole Gospel itself—sacrament and Spirit, communion and redemption, grace and mercy, human sin and brokenness met by the total gift of God in Christ, and everything the Church has received and passed on about all these matters from the apostles to now.
If all of that, or much of that, is simply words on a screen without any living resonance, or worse yet, words that have never been taught to a person at all because those who were charged to teach them refused to do so, then of course the call to chastity, the indissoluble nature of marriage, the essential link of sex and fertility, and the sacredness of human life from conception, will all be dead letters, heavy and dry laws without anything to recommend them.