St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome in February 2014. RNS photo by David Gibson

Catholic bishops at their synod proved how human they are

By Mark Azzara

My Dear Friend,

One commentator, after analyzing the final document produced last week by the Catholic Church’s Synod of Bishops on family-life issues, said the conservatives had “won.” Another columnist said liberals had won. A third said it will be a while before we know who won. Small wonder that I rely so little on the media to say anything accurate about religion.

I, too, could parse the bishops’ final document and spit out my own analysis, perhaps better described as my anal-ysis. But why bother? The bishops said nothing. Nothing clear. Nothing unequivocal. Nothing with one strong voice. They ceded their authority to Pope Francis, who must now try to make some sense out of a document that, to me, makes no sense.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says His thoughts and ways are absolutely nothing like ours. I have taken that message to heart. Every day one of my first prayers is: “Father, show me where I am wrong, so that you might lead me in right paths for your name’s sake.”

I take very seriously the notion that my ideas don’t conform to God’s, and I got a real taste of that this morning. I was battling God in prayer because of the suffering I see in the lives of others. I was angry that innocent people suffer so much, and that God seems to turn a deaf ear to our prayers.

I was thinking about one family in particular. The mother has a back so fragile that no chiropractor will touch it. She suffered through a botched colonoscopy and then nearly died when emergency room personnel misdiagnosed her condition and let her writhe in agony for 10 hours before a passing doctor noticed the situation and rushed her into surgery. Three of her children died young and a fourth has been confined to a wheelchair for 32 years after her voluntary-muscle nervous system collapsed at age 5. She and her husband learned recently they both have cancer. Their wheelchair-bound daughter has suffered two broken legs and a cracked kneecap as a result of botched care. The list goes on and on, and yet every time I see her she says, “God is so good.”

I remembered her words this morning in prayer but I didn’t believe them. Then I read Revelations 7:14, which talks about the saints in heaven who have “survived the great distress.” Life is the great distress for this family and yet they remain faithful. I needed to be reminded of that this morning because my thoughts aren’t God’s.

Nor are those of the bishops.

I can’t tell you how frustrated I am with the bishops, who let their competing theologies obscure truth. And yet they are no worse than me. If I can lose sight of God and fail to see things his way, then I can’t fault the bishops for making the same mistake. I must pray for them, even though I am tempted to think it’s a waste of time. It isn’t.

Jesus commands – he doesn’t ask or suggest – that we love one another as he has loved us. He died for those who are seen by others as not worth it. Before I write off the bishops as not being worth praying for I must remember he died for them, too – died to save them from their egos, their theologies and all the rest.

God isn’t looking for me to put into action my cheap, faulted, biased human ideas of love. To love others as God has loved us means we are able, by experience, to define God’s love in ways that go well beyond our limited human definitions. They require us to see what is unseen, to believe what the world dismisses as unbelievable, and to obey in humility when the world advocates rebellion.

Loving others as God has loved us is the most difficult task imaginable, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Catholic bishops seem to be have screwed it up. It appears that it will be up to Francis to show them (and us) how.

Last week I urged you to join me in praying for the bishops so they might surrender to God and exhibit his love in their final document. Now I’m begging you to pray for the pope so that he can do what the bishops didn’t.

All God’s blessings – Mark


About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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