Most media coverage of the family synod has relied on an implicit sporting metaphor: there were two clear sides, the Progressives and the Conservatives, captained by Cardinal Walter Kasper and Cardinal Raymond Burke respectively. The Progressives took an early lead, but the Conservatives launched an aggressive fightback and scored a late winner. Look out for the rematch in October 2015.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols prefers a more refined analogy. The synodal process, he has frequently said, is like a concerto. The family synod, which ended on Sunday, was simply the first movement. “What happens now is there is a second movement, traditionally a quiet movement, when we listen more attentively and talk about these things in our home churches. Then next October there’s a third movement, which often contains strong themes. And then there’ll be a finale, which will be Pope Francis’s own word.” But if the family synod is like a concerto, its opening notes struck many as more Schoenberg than Haydn: jarring and dissonant, rather than elegant and harmonious.
We would like to offer another metaphor: the synod’s final report is like an unfinished icon. During their two-week meeting the synod fathers did little more than paint the gold background. They have yet to begin the hardest part: drawing a portrait of Jesus that speaks to a contemporary world that has all but forgotten him. Icon painters say that prayer is essential to their work, and so the bishops have paused for a year of reflection, before meeting again for the second, larger family synod. We, too, should be praying that the synod fathers create a compelling image of Christ. For it is all too easy to unconsciously adopt the sporting metaphor, cheering on our respective side as if the synod is little more than an entertaining, inter-tribal game.
Anyone who doubts the bishops’ ability to complete the icon should read the full final synod report for themselves, rather than relying on commentaries. (Unhelpfully, the Vatican did not release an official English translation immediately, but it should appear on its website this week.) The final text is much more deeply rooted in Scripture than the controversial “mid-term” report, but is still unmistakably a document of the Pope Francis era, expressing the same urgent desire to welcome all into the loving arms of the Father.
An unfinished icon can look slightly alarming. But we should be confident that God will answer our prayers and that, when the image is finally completed, the people of our time – our friends and neighbours – will see a radiant portrait of Christ that cannot leave them unmoved.
The Catholic Herald comment guidelines
•Do not make personal attacks on writers or fellow commenters – respond only to their arguments.