This post originally appeared on Bishop Tim Thornton's blog. Timothy Thornton was born in Leeds, England and educated at Devonport High School for Boys. He took an honours degree in Theology at Southampton University and trained for the priesthood at Oxford, later working in London, Wakefield and Cardiff. Timothy was Bishop of Sherborne for seven years before becoming the 15th Bishop of Truro in 2008. He is Trustee of a number of organizations as well as serving as Chairman of the Children’s Society which is a national charity working to help the most deprived children and disadvantaged young people. He was introduced to the House of Lords in April 2013.Bishop Tim, as he is known to his flock, has not been afraid to voice his concerns on controversial matters of the day and has said that the greatest threat to Christianity is a lack of confidence in the faith saying: "My biggest concern is that Christians are not willing or able to bear witness to the faith that they believe. …If we believe what the gospel says then we ought to have the confidence in what we believe."Pope Francis appointed him as a fraternal delegate to the October 2015 Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Bishop Thornton is married to Sian who is a teacher. They have two children and two grandchildren, twin girls.
Given I was at the Synod of Bishops last year and that is where my blog began I thought it was only right and proper that I write a blog now that Pope Francis has published the Post Synodical Exhortation.
As it happens I have one or two things to say about it and its reception so far.
The first thing to say is that it is well worth reading. It is not a short document and it will not be necessarily easy reading for everyone but I do think Pope Francis has a fascinating style that is a good mix of being based in scripture and the tradition and a very immediate and straightforward way of putting things. For example, “in the family three words need to be used. I want to repeat this! Three words, ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Sorry’. Three essential words! (p.100)”
The immediacy that comes through at various parts of this document is refreshing and challenging.
I would also commend to you the section on Our Daily Love in Chapter Four (pp. 71 ff.) It is an exposition on I Corinthians chapter 13 and is rich and helpful. It is well worth studying and again is a mix of scriptural explanation and to the point advice and wisdom. “Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like.” (p. 73).
Of course the Exhortation has been long awaited and is the result of a process that has taken place over a number of years. Inevitably there are huge expectations on the part of many many people. As the response to the document shows, and as we all know anyway, we cannot please all the people all the time. Reactions to The Joy of Love have been that it is either too liberal or too conservative. Depending on who you read and who you are it is either making too much change or is allowing no change at all.
You could say that a very good document is one that is open to such wide interpretation. I think that the document is well worth reading and that is part of the problem. Most people will not read the document and want someone to tell them what it says on certain issues; the ones they believe are the key issues.
The Pope begins with a significant statement, “Since, ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by the intervention on the magisterium.” (p. 4). I am fascinated by the suggestion that time is greater than space which Pope Francis has said before but I don’t want to get unduly distracted by it. Apart from this I am struck by the power of the Pope stating at the beginning of such an important report that the Magisterium is not to be used to solve all the problems. He goes on to say, “Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.” (p. 4).
I believe this is a thread that runs through this Exhortation and is not easy for any of us to grasp. Pope Francis, while in no way denying his role or his proper sense of authority, is constantly helping every one of us to understand that under God, under His Son Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us, under the Holy Spirit who gives us power and strength, our life’s work is to accept who we are and become who God wants us to be. That means we need to try and stop being dependent and grow through independence and aim towards interdependence.
So the report moves to look at the controversial issues faced by the Synod last year and no doubt frustratingly for many Pope Francis does not issue diktats or utter infallible statements other than that every one of us needs to grow in Christ.
Pope Francis shows he has a real understanding and empathy with the situation within families of all sorts and shapes and sizes (perhaps not quite all but almost all) today. He also, in different ways throughout this report, keeps stressing there are no easy answers or solutions to the problems that beset family life. He emphasises the importance of inclusion and that way exclusion is not a gospel option. I can do no better than to quote at some length from the very end of The Joy of Love.
“As this Exhortation has often noted, no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love. There is a never ending vocation born of the full communion of the Trinity, the profound unity between Christ and his church, the loving community which is the holy family of Nazareth and the pure fraternity which exists among the saints of heaven. Our contemplation of the fulfilment we have yet to attain, also allows us to see, in a proper prospective, the historical journey which we make as families, and, in this way, to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come. It also keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty. All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine. May we never lost heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.” (p.255)
We all have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others and we all put impossible burdens on to other people. The Joy of Love does not answer all the questions that are in peoples’ minds as a result of the Synod on the Family. There are many who will feel this is not any answer to any of the questions. Some, from a conservative perspective, will decide it is too liberal, and some liberals will decide it is far too conservative. I think it is well worth reading and reflecting on, above all to consider how each and every one of us can take seriously the call ‘to grow and mature in the ability to love’.
At times during the Synod last year I did worry that there was an ideal family in the minds of some of the Cardinals and an unreality about some of the interventions and contributions. The Joy of Love is not in any way guilty of seeing the family, any family, as ideal and I believe it is one more step on the way to encouraging us all to grow up and mature in the ability to love.
Synod 2015 Interview with Bishop Timothy Thornton (Anglican Communion)
WITNESS Interview with Bishop Timothy Thornton
This post originally appeared on Bishop Tim Thornton's blog.