The Family Models Synodality
Only two of our five children, now adults, still reside with us. As resident adults, we respect their right to make decisions about their personal life, but we also impose some house rules.
For example, we require them to communicate about their movements, tidy their rooms, do their own laundry, and participate in the preparation of meals etc. We’re open to discussion about the details of their contribution, but we retain our right and responsibility as parents to make the final decision.
It wasn’t always this way. When our children were young, we exerted much more authority. For example, we determined what they ate and supervised their hygiene. Praise be to God we no longer need to wipe their bottoms or remove slugs from their mouths!
As they have matured and grown, their ability to make sensible decisions has earned them more influence in how our home is run. But, as parents and the head of the household, ultimately, it’s our decision that rules.
Here’s the thing about being ‘in charge’: it’s not about power and setting things to benefit ourselves as if our children exist to serve us. No, the position of authority in the home is primarily about service – it’s a model of servant leadership.
Our decisions are guided by what we believe will be in the best interests of the moral, spiritual, physical and intellectual health of all members. As parents, we take the long view, resisting easy solutions that buy short-term peace at the expense of long-term well-being.
An example is our prohibition of same-room sleepovers with romantic partners. Such decisions are not always popular with our children. Yet to relent on this would be derelict in our responsibility to transmit Christian moral teaching to which we made solemn vows on our wedding day and at their Baptism.
Couple Unity is key
Throughout this time, the unity between us, as husband and wife, has been critical to the harmony of the home. We wish we could say that this was a constant, that we were always in agreement. Alas, it was not always so!
Many times, we wrestled with differences in opinion about how best to manage a behavioural problem or how to run the home more efficiently. Divergent parenting styles based on our upbringing in different homes was frequently a source of tension.
As the challenges became more complex, we learnt to rely more on God in our decision making. If we had our time over, we would have been more intentional from the very beginning about discerning the will of the Holy Spirit for our family.
The Family – model for the church
While not a new idea, the family as a model for the church often gets overlooked. It is encouraging, therefore, to see that one of the sessions at the World Meeting of Families in July is looking at this very idea.
The notes for this session identify the family as a model for synodality. That’s a bit of a buzz word in church circles especially now that Pope Francis has initiated a ‘Synod on Synodality’!
If you’ve heard of ‘synod’ before, you probably get that it’s a meeting of Church leaders, usually of bishops, but in recent times, inclusive of lay and religious leaders. The word comes from the Greek (syn-hodos) meaning ‘the same way/path’, carrying the sense that the assembly aims to arrive at a united perspective on a particular topic.
A Synod on Synodality, therefore is an assembly to deliberate on the process by which the Church arrives at decisions. A key principle is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the discernment process.
The family is not a democracy
Our Australian Plenary Council has also been walking this ‘synodal’ path. Some voices in the Plenary have expressed frustration that only the bishops have ‘deliberative votes’ (that is, votes that are binding). Others have expressed dismay that everything seems to be up for discussion, even aspects like doctrine and morals which are not formally on the agenda.
It’s important to remember that just as the family is not a democracy, neither is our Church. In a democracy, the will of the people is determinative and the majority rules. In our Church, the will of the Holy Spirit is paramount.
That doesn’t mean that lots of different members can’t have input or voice an opinion. Afterall, listening to the will of the Holy Spirit is everyone’s responsibility. What it does mean, is that the outcome will not be simply a matter of counting votes.
Just like a family, our bishops, as fathers and guardians of the faith, will bear the burden of the final decision. With many diametrically opposed views, their decisions won’t be easy, nor universally popular.
Thanks be to God they are servant-leaders committed to the mission entrusted to them at ordination. Let us pray as they lead the family of the Church on the synodal way.