Sunday, 18 October 2015

Praying for the Synod

I know, I haven't said anything yet about the Synod on the Family in Rome. One reason is that enough - and more! - has already been written online. To be honest, I'm trying not to read too much of what's out there; one notable exception is, as always, iBenedictines. Do read this post, for some holy and charitable good sense.

But I did write something - because I was asked to - for The Portal. Here it is...

There is an ancient tradition of the ‘vestibule of prayer’, which comes from the monastic practice of statio - stopping for a few moments outside the chapel before entering for prayer. Sr Joan Chittister describes this practice as ‘meant to centre us and make us conscious of what we're about to do, and make us present to God who is present to us. Statio is the desire to do consciously what I might otherwise do mechanically.’  I’m thinking of that today because I’m quite sure that I need a statio space before I pray about the Synod on the Family.

Praying mechanically rather than consciously, as Sr Joan puts it, leaves us unaware of our preconceptions and prejudices, forgetting that we pray not to change God’s mind about anything, but that we ourselves might be changed. I have read and heard so much about the Synod over the last year; some of it measured and charitable but most (if I may say so) quite the opposite. I am feeling angry, confused, hurt, anxious, exasperated; I need to pause in that vestibule and acknowledge consciously how I am before God. As Archbishop Michael Ramsey said, ‘Take heed to thyself, that self which can deceive unless it is revealed in naked simplicity before its God.’  Unexamined and unconfessed desires for a particular outcome of our prayer can muffle the voice of the Spirit within us who ‘intercedes with sighs too deep for words,’ (Romans 8:26) ‘for we do not know how to pray as we ought’.

Moving on, we do well to turn to scripture to help us in our prayer, especially if we do it willing to be challenged and surprised. For example, I think I know what I mean by the word ‘family’. But the word only occurs once in the New Testament (in the Authorised Version, anyway): it’s Ephesians 3:15, ‘…from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name’, and the word is patria, which is elsewhere translated as ‘lineage’. It’s a broader, looser word than our modern western concept of a ‘nuclear family’.
During last year’s Synod the Holy Father invited us to pray: ‘Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer’. Have we stopped to consider what that means? The Holy Family is the family of Jesus, and we are praying that our families might become like them. Well, indeed… but look at how the gospel speaks of the ‘brothers and sisters’ of Jesus. As Catholics we agree that this implies an extended family without precise definitions - whether they are half-brothers, cousins or whatever, we are not told and don't need to know. And Jesus, while his mother waits outside, points to his disciples and says, ’Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ So, we’re really praying that we might find communion in some unexpected and ill-defined places. Do we dare pray that?

And this will of Jesus’ Father, which we have to follow to become his family? Keep praying with scripture and you’ll find answers like this one from Micah: ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ If I follow this thread of prayer from its vestibule to the heart of God’s word I’ll find that in praying for the Synod I’m praying for myself - to be changed, to be humbled. It’s a risky business, prayer.

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