Does anyone remember this request for input? Those questions were geared toward the Church’s Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will discuss The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, to be held in October.
In late June the Vatican published the working document (instrumentum laboris) for this synod. The entire document is worth reading. Among its 159 paragraphs are two that people in Ave Maria (her founders, leaders, residents and parishioners) might find interesting because they seem to re-state some of the criticisms that have been aimed at Ave Maria. These are the two paragraphs:
Support for a Familial Spirituality
58. Many bishops’ conferences recount how particular Churches render support to a familial spirituality in their pastoral activity. In our time, spiritual movements make a special contribution to promoting an authentic, effective pastoral programme for the family. Christian communities are characterized by a variety of ecclesial situations and approaches aimed at specific individuals. Clearly, local Churches should be able to find that this richness is a real resource for not only promoting various initiatives on behalf of couples intending marriage but devising ways to provide suitable pastoral care for families today. Some respondents recount that many dioceses foster specific endeavours and formation for couples who can then provide support to other couples and sustain a series of initiatives to promote a true familial spirituality. Some argue that sometimes local communities, movements, groups and religious associations can be exclusive and too restrictive in the life of a parish. This situation illustrates the importance of their being fully engaged with the whole Church in an authentic sense of mission so as to avoid the danger of excessively looking inward. Families belonging to these communities exercise a vibrant apostolate and, judging from the past, are instrumental in the evangelization of many families. Their members offer a credible witness with their lives of fidelity in marriage, mutual respect, unity and openness to life.
Counter-Witness in the Church
75. Responses from almost every part of the world frequently refer to the sexual scandals within the Church (pedophilia, in particular) and, in general, to a negative experience with the clergy and other persons. Sex scandals significantly weaken the Church’s moral credibility, above all in North America and northern Europe. In addition, a conspicuously lavish lifestyle by some of the clergy shows an inconsistency between their teaching and their conduct. Some lay faithful live and practice their faith in a “showy manner,” failing to display the truth and humility required by the Gospel spirit. The responses lament that persons who are separated, divorced or single parents sometimes feel unwelcome in some parish communities, that some clergy are uncompromising and insensitive in their behavior; and, generally speaking, that the Church, in many ways, is perceived as exclusive, and not sufficiently present and supportive. In this sense, an open and positive pastoral approach is needed, one which can restore confidence in the institution through a credible witness by all her members.
While perception is not always reality, it is true that perception can be an impediment to winning people over for Christ. If we are not careful, without us realizing it the project of Ave Maria might overshadow the reason for the project, that is Christ.* If we love this reason and wish to serve Him and lead others to know Him, it seems we will at least keep these things in mind, and perhaps take the occasion of this Synod to come up with ways our community can address these concerns.
*See Msgr. Lorenzo Albecete, “A Presence, Not Utopia,” Traces, No. 11, December 1, 2007.