Roll up, roll up! It’s extraordinary synod time, and Catholics everywhere are expected to know what’s going down in the Vatican. The trouble is, we don’t.
We’ve probably all read reports in the papers that Pope Francis is convening a meeting of bishops to discuss the family, and that they will be exploring the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics not receiving Holy Communion.
But apart from that, what can you say? Lots is the answer, and here is a list of 10 phrases that can make you sound informed.
1) The media is looking at this through an entirely secular lens, of course. As all journalists know, when in doubt, bash the media. And when discussing religion, thrown in the s-word. This instantly makes you sound as if you have sources of information other than the secular media, such as the Catholic Herald, natch.
2) Doctrine can never change, but practice and tradition can. An old classic: the Orthodox Twist. This line enables you to tell off your conversationalist for even raising the issue of reform, while also showing that you understand that something big might be happening. You can mix it up by saying “Even Pope Francis can’t change dogma, I’m afraid.”
3) We need to create a culture of mercy. The liberal side-step. This line enables you to make yourself sound jolly decent and understanding about what it must be like to be a loyal Catholic excluded from Communion without actually saying anything that might be wrong, or heretical. Nobody is going to say, “No, we absolutely must not create a culture of mercy.”
4) The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect. A zinger this one, but should be delivered carefully. You don’t want to get lost in the myriad complexities of mortal and venial sins — not to mention canon law. But it does establish you as somebody who knows we are all sinners, and suggests a degree of hypocrisy in your adversary’s argument – which is always good.
5) Whatever happens, we can expect an unholy row. Adopt of a sad face while delivering this remark; you cannot help but be disappointed that the bishops of the Catholic Church are so political and ideological. They are supposed to be God’s men on earth.
6) This is the first real test of Pope Francis’s papacy. There’s a three-year rule when it comes to talking about popes: it doesn’t matter how dramatic or momentous their papacy has been, for the first three years of their papacy you can always refer to a major event as being in their first real test.
7) Beware of the hermeneutic of discontinuity. A banker in any Catholic discussion, really. Just using the world “hermeneutic” in any context should make you sound pretty knowledgeable. Use in the context of “the real spirit of Vatican II”, “What Cardinal Newman wrote about the Magisterium” and “Pope Benedict’s regrettably short papacy”.
8) The African bishops have their own agenda here. You don’t need to elaborate; you’ve just shown a little understanding of Church politics and diplomacy — others will be impressed.
9) Annulment reform might be the only way forward. This remark sets you up as somebody who can see the problem from all sides, and who has given it some real thought. You know the status quo cannot go on, but you also recognise that failed marriages are not easily resolved, sacramentally speaking, cough cough.
10) The Church is a family too. A pious platitude but a gem: it helps to vague up any discussion that has been getting too technical. Use it to round off the argument, maybe with another nod to “Pope Francis’s leadership”.
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