Monday, September 15, 2014

Question for Synod on Family from Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny: "What Kind of People Did Jesus Mix with and in What Way?"

The Catholic bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, has published a statement on his expectations for the forthcoming synod on the family. An English translation of the statement by Brian Doyle is online now at (pdf file) the website of the Belgian Catholic bishops' conference. I'm struck by the following passage, in which Bonny explains that he hopes the synod won't be a Platonic one that withdraws into "the distant safety of doctrinal debate and general norms," but will "pay heed to the concrete and complex reality of life" and will remember the calling of the church to be a "travelling companion" for its members on their life journeys:

The Church’s relationship with men and women today is not one of symmetry or mutuality. While some often maintain their distance from the Church, they refuse to be written off or ignored by it, and they are not wrong in this regard. The question here focuses on Jesus Christ and the mission he entrusted to the Church. What kind of people did Jesus mix with and in what way? Jesus and his disciples made a refreshing impression on their environment. They were close to people. In contrast to other religious and social groups, they came across as ordinary, simple, down to earth. They did their thing without pretention. At the same time, however, they radiated a clear difference, something that drew admiration; to the joy of many, and to the growing irrita- tion of others. What were the features of the difference they radiated? It included, among other things, the following: they were free and they brought joy; they welcomed the lost and the con- demned back into the centre of the circle; they called for compassion and forgiveness; they rejected every use of power and violence; they preferred to take the last place and they believed in the power of love, a love that does not count on reward. They were thus very ‘close’, but also very ‘different’. Jesus, moreover, did not give the community around him an exclusive character. He approached and assembled people around him in several circles. He permittd many nuances between the inner and the outer circle. To use Jesus’ own imagery: sometimes he was a sower, sometimes a shepherd, sometimes a host. In each instance, people stood or sat around him in varying circles. This concentric structure is part of the architecture of the Church as Jesus intend- ed its construction. I hope that the Synod will do sufficient justice to this architecture.

See also Tom Heneghan's commentary on Bishop Bonny's statement at The Tablet. I'm grateful to Chris Morley for bringing both links to my attention in a comment here today.

The photograph of Bishop Bonny by Bron:IPID is from the website of the Belgian Catholic bishops' conference.

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