By Barb Arland Fye
Pope Francis convenes the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in just two months, and that event came to mind as my family spent a rare, late Sunday afternoon together. The extraordinary Synod (and an ordinary Synod to follow in 2015) will focus, ultimately, on the Church’s pastoral care of families and the challenges they face in a world focused on the secular.
Our reunion took place in Cedar Rapids, where our younger son, Patrick, attends college and has a part-time job. Colin, our older son, has been longing to visit his brother at his home away from home and convinced Patrick to set the date for Aug. 24, the day before classes started. My husband, Steve, who works on call, was blessed with a window of time that allowed the four of us to rendezvous in Cedar Rapids.
“The family is acknowledged in the People of God to be an invaluable asset, the natural setting in which life grows and develops and a school of humanity, love and hope for society. The family continues to be the privileged place in which Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the person.” (From a document on the upcoming extraordinary Synod, Instrumentum Laboris, No. 31)
I said a prayer, asking Christ to help me avoid releasing a gusher about the state of Patrick’s apartment. It took my breath away to see cluttered tabletops, unmade bed, a T-shirt hanging on the end of an open dresser drawer (sigh) and worn-out furniture. I offered to make a visit this fall to help give the apartment a “homey” look. Offer accepted. Still, Patrick has made great strides in maturity this past year and reaffirms the nurturing effects of our family’s domestic church when he discusses the insights he’s gained from homilies at Mass each week in Cedar Rapids. Maybe I can tolerate his unmade bed.
Before dinner, we took a ride, for the first time, through the sun-dappled woods of Palisades-Kepler State Park a few miles from Patrick’s apartment. Traveling the park’s winding roads brought back fond memories of another Palisades park — Mississippi Palisades State Park — near Savanna, Ill., that we visited often throughout our sons’ childhoods.
A giant sandbar in the Cedar River came into view at Palisades-Kepler. We couldn’t resist getting out of the SUV and walking in the sand. Families played in the shallow water off the sandbar; their voices echoed delightfully against the rocky bluffs on the other side.
Headed back toward the park’s entrance, we saw a group of young Amish women wearing plain, crisp dresses with white bonnets and enjoying a stroll. I couldn’t help but think about the counter-cultural lifestyle they live and how the teachings of the Catholic Church seem counter-cultural and outdated to the society in which we live.
In the preparatory document for this fall’s extraordinary Synod, we read of some challenges facing families: “the relationship between the family and the workplace; the relationship between the family and education; the relationship between the family and health; the family’s ability to bring generations together so as not to neglect the young and the elderly; the situation of the rights of the family institution and its specific relationships; and the promotion of just laws, such as those that ensure the defense of human life from its conception and those which promote the social goodness of an authentic marriage between a man and a woman.” (Instrumentum Laboris, No. 34).
Our family’s reunion concluded with an enjoyable dinner at a restaurant of Colin’s choosing. “Who decided we should come to visit Patrick and go out to Perkin’s for dinner?” Colin asked, rhetorically. I’m still puzzled as to why people with autism need to repeat the same question, numerous times, to which they already have an answer. But I do know that Colin misses Patrick terribly. We don’t have to explain to him why the Church is so focused on the family.