As preparation for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, the Bishops of England and Wales have invited their people to make submissions on their experience of the institution. In their invitation, “The Call, the Journey and the Mission”, they pose six questions to be answered:
- What are your joys and hopes of marriage and family life today?
- What are your struggles and fears of marriage and family life today?
- How can we better understand marriage as a vocation?
- How does your marriage enrich you?
- How does your family life enrich those around you?
- In what way, through the abiding presence of God, is your family “salt of the earth and light to the world,” and a place of and for handing on our faith?
We could simply go directly to the questionnaire, and dash off some replies. However, they ask that we first reflect on a selection of scripture passages (the links in the headings go to the sections of the bishops’ website, where they suggest specific questions for reflection. The links following the references go to the actual texts at Bible Gateway, NRSV Catholic edition):
- The faith of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12:1-9, text here)
- The prayer of Tobias and Sarah (Tobit 8:4-8, text here)
- Mary – the Annunciation and Visitation (Luke 1:26-56, text here)
- The presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2: 22-40. text here)
- The wedding feast of Cana (John 2: 1-12, text here)
- Mary and John at the foot of the cross (John 19.24-27, text here)
- The disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-32, text here)
They also ask that we respond to each question “Thinking about what you have read in the scriptures and using the quotes below from the teaching of Pope Francis…..”
This is highly directive: leading questions, in fact, which could easily result in the unwary giving precisely the answers the bishops want, and not honest replies based on real life experience. During a workshop session on feedback to the bishops and the Vatican at yesterday’s Roehampton University Study Day, one participant described the questions as “lamentable”, and suggested that even attempting to answer them would be a mistake
I disagree. I have already participated in a parish lectio divina exercise on one of the suggested scripture texts, in which I found that although the questions there also appeared to be equally directive and inapplicable to my situation as a gay man, the lectio divina process led naturally to some honest sharing on both the joys of my (informal) same – sex marriage, the difficulties I had previously experienced in conventional, church – sanctioned marriage – and the difficulties placed in my life by Church teaching. I propose to do the same with the full set of scripture reflections, and the bishops’ questions.
Doing so in full, giving appropriate time to each scripture passage and its reflection, and replying to each question adequately after suitable reflection on Pope Francis’ words, in the context of both my marriage experiences, will be immensely time- consuming, but I will not shirk the challenge. As I work through the exercise, I will publish the results here, and also share them more widely – in addition to submitting the final results to the bishops, as requested.