Unpacking the suitcase thoroughly means we'll all have to give family life the time and attention it deserves. Opening up every zipper, and digging under the pile of whatever's on top has the potential to slow us down long enough to really see what we have to work with.
"Synod" isn't a very inspiring word. It belongs to the vocabulary I like to call "Tibertalk" or "Romespeak." You know, completely antiquated or overly-technical words that are only used by seminarians, very formal priests, or industrial-strength lay Catholics. I mean, why would anyone say "colation" when "reception" would do just fine? But while the technical term for what's going on in Rome right now may not sound relevant, the event most certainly is. What comes out of this year's Extraordinary Synod on the Family is something we, the Church, will be unpacking for a very long time.
And that's the risk. We all hear pieces of what is presented and discussed, affirmed and rejected, decided and left open for another day. But a lot of us won't have enough of an attention span to make sure we've taken everything out of the suitcase before we grab what catches our eye, put it on or discard it quickly, and run out the door to our lives. If so, we are bound to miss or mismatch something.
The problem is that the Catholic Church just doesn't do things the way a fast food restaurant or sound bite generator does. But that is also a benefit. Unpacking the suitcase thoroughly means we'll all have to give family life the time and attention it deserves. Opening up every zipper, and digging under the pile of whatever's on top has the potential to slow us down long enough to really see what we have to work with. If we manage to lay it all out, we'll have a better chance of being able to put together something that's appropriate, attractive -- and most importantly something that fits our lives not only when we venture out but at home.
Frankly, the media coverage of the synod has made me laugh. A great deal of it seems bent on asking the same question again and again: What do popes, bishops, priests, (or celebates in general), have to say about the family? Given that every one of us begins and lives the whole of our lives in the context of family in some way, the answer is obvious. Popes, bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women, singles, married couples with and without children, single or divorced parents, youth, the elderly: all of us have something to say. This synod along with the International Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year may give us the opportunity to say it. It may also give us a way of listening more attentively to what others -- including the bishops -- have to say.
I, for one, am happy to see the bishops devote their attention to the struggles my family faces every day. I want them more involved in family life, not less. I don't want them to shrink back from the skepticism of our post-Christian culture. I need them to show me how to both survive it and engage it. The fact is that sometimes I'm so busy and worn down by the day to day things that I miss some of the bigger picture. I'm hoping that the Church will help me see what's in my own suitcase and what essentials I may have inadvertently, or willfully, left behind.
For me, the hardest part of family life is living in the tension between reality and the ideal. Families are supposed to be where we learn how to love, and where we can develop and be ourselves most freely. The family is meant to be a school of prayer and virtue. It is intended to facilitate a communion of persons that both nurtures us in faith and challenges us to strive for holiness. The family is both a place of diversity where each individual is valued as gift, and a place of unity where every member experiences himself and others in the context of something greater than any one of them. I know that our family has experienced all those things and none of them. Like every family, we are at the same time a good example and a miserable failure. And I, like every parent, have contributed heartily both to reflecting the ideal and falling far short of it.
I am hoping that as this synod proceeds, the Church will offer some practical guidance in reconciling what families are with what families are called to be. I pray that we will take an honest look not only at "the family" in the abstract and ideal, but at "our families" in concrete reality. May this Synod be the beginning of a new openness to God's plan for us in our hearts, and in our homes, not just for those who wear cassocks in Rome, but for us all.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.