Saint Paul the Apostle exhorts us: “Be firmly grounded in the faith.” The great 20th century apologist, Msgr. Ronald Knox, wrote a book entitled “Enthusiasm.” He contended that, at the root of all heresies, lies one thing – enthusiasm, and, by this phrase, Knox meant the over-emphasis of one aspect over any and all aspects of the faith.
The Pharisees, whom the Lord Jesus encounters in the Gospel, by and large, were not bad men. Most were fine, upstanding men, who, in an attempt to keep their faith pure and undefiled from the effects of the secularist culture of their day, clung to what the Lord Jesus called “mere human precepts.”
These men, these separated ones, wanted to do the right thing, in their own estimation, by God and man. So, they overemphasized the observance of the law, trying to preserve what they truly believed, in their enthusiasm, to be the absolute, correct observance of the Law. And, because of their enthusiasm, in their attempt to create a smaller, more faithful, more purified gathering of Israel, they, in fact had the opposite effect – they lost their firm grounding in the faith.
The Synod on the Family is a meeting of some very good people, with some very good intentions, concerning a very good topic. The questions that are arising, from what the reports tell us, are not that of a doctrinal nature. Rather they are ones of methodology, on how to have the debates as well as on how the Church, following the example of Mary as the Mother of Mercy, can best minister to her children, many of whom are hurting.
This is all the while being aware, like Archbishop Charles Chaput stated: “let’s look after the 99 sheep who accept the Church teaching as well as helping the one who feels abandoned.” In this debate, it’s all a question of enthusiasm – what should be emphasize at this particular time? Do we use an inductive method, beginning with the situation and the people involved and work back to the principle, or would it be best to use a deductive method, beginning with the unchanging principle and making our way down to the people and the situation.
So, how about you and me when we think about the issues being discussed in the Synod? Have we, at times, lost our firm grounding, our vision of the big picture, of the hierarchy of truths, missing the forest for the trees, in our over-emphasis of any one good thing? Has this enthusiasm led us to judge, or rather, misjudge, anyone ecclesiology, albeit orthodox, is different in any way than ours?
Are we willing by our humility and openness before, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “the hope of the Gospel that you have heard,” to be enthusiastic about the one thing that truly matters, namely the salvation of our own soul and the soul of others? What truly matter, according to Paul, is being “without blemish, irreproachable,” before the Son of Man who is the Lord of the Sabbath.
As we approach the final week of the Synod, we look for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit upon the contemporary Apostles. We do not want to see them stuck and mired in the minutiae of how to proceed.
We need a strong message from the Synod Fathers about the importance of marriage and family life. We need to hear a message that helps us to look outside ourselves, so that we do not make the same mistakes as did the Pharisees.
We anticipate a strong message of unity in the face of diversity so that we all will be one.