Towards a more inclusive Church filled with love and compassion

Small groups have met in PJ, Ipoh and Penang to discuss the Lineamenta for the general Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held later this year.

Mar 20, 2015

By Anil Netto
What outcome do you expect when you get groups of Christians to seriously reflect on the family, the Church in the light of what is happening in the world today?

Small groups have met in PJ, Ipoh and Penang to discuss the Lineamenta (the Latin term for the preparatory document) for the general Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held later this year.

The Synod, on October 4-25, 2015, will discuss feedback received from the ground on the theme The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.

I sat through one of the discussions held in Penang, and they covered a lot of ground. Several common themes emerged, which were remarkably similar to those that arose in Ipoh and PJ, judging from the notes of the discussions in those two cities.

People want the institutional Church to put much greater emphasis on Love and Compassion and Mercy — even above the rites and rituals that are such a part of our liturgical practises. Now, this is important, for isn’t that what Jesus was telling us?

There seems to be an “overemphasis on rituals and rites of the sacraments/canon laws/ clericalism/rules and regulations — at the expense of pastoral care.”

The question that should preoccupy us would be, What would Jesus do? The way we perceive unmarried mothers, those in the LGBT community, divorced Christians, those in mixed marriages, etc needs to change. They should be able to find a place in the Church and be accepted for who they are.

Many Christians want the Church to practise acceptance and inclusiveness instead of being judgemental, even hypocritical and exclusive about all sorts of issues. Sinners should be embraced with compassion, not rejected.

In fact, we need to reflect deeper on what constitutes sin. Have we overemphasised personal sin but overlooked social sin? The notes on the Ipoh discussion say, “There is also a great imbalance in imputing sin. There is undue focus on sexual sins whereas there are other sins e.g. corruption, exploitation, injustice, which are also serious. “

One person felt disturbed that the sacraments were being used like a system of rewards for those who have “practised” the faith. (This reminds me of the notice many churches put up that “Only baptised and practising Catholics can receive Holy Communion.” Who decides and who judges?) The emphasis needs to be on grace and mercy and healing, not judgment.

People also felt concerned about those who seemed to be excluded from the Church. Our Church, especially in urban areas, tends to be a comfortable, middle-class church and the preaching is targeted at those who attend.

But many Christians find it difficult to attend church for a variety of reasons. The family has come under tremendous stress and some of these social pressures have to be understood for what they are. Increasingly, the lower-income group are forced to work up to 12-13 hours a day, either on overtime or in different jobs. They are doing this, not because they are materialistic, but to support their families, who now have to contend with the burden of GST.

Those in white-collar jobs find themselves working long hours, even on weekends, as companies place added pressure on their executives to deliver the profits that their shareholders expect.

The long hours at work have led to a corresponding neglect of children who are left to fend for themselves, and they fall prey to unhealthy influences on the internet or in poor company. The forces of capitalism have forced many firms to hire cheap labour, forcing many of them to outsource their workers or secure cheap migrant workers.

When migrant workers come to Malaysia to work, they are separated from their families at home. Many of them are Christians but they may be unable to attend Sunday services because of shift work, expensive public transport or restrictions placed on their freedom of movement by their employers. How is the Church supporting these marginalised people? Do our BECs practise inclusiveness towards the migrant workers in their area? What about refugees and asylum seekers in our midst? Do we even know who they are?

This is why the Bishop of Rome has spoken about the Church being a “field hospital”, reaching out to the wounded, the excluded, the rejected and the invisible.

One concern is that the Church is spending way too much money on “hardware” (buildings, religious paraphenalia, statues and other trappings) instead of the “software” (trained people to handle various needs and ministries).

Trained personnel such as counsellors, literacy classes coordinators, social workers, psychologists, migrants support ministy staff, coordinators to staff poverty eradication programmes are badly needed in many parishes if we really want to serve as a field hospital for the “walking wounded.”

These “walking wounded” are not going to walk into our parishes. They have to be attended to where they are.

But what was really remarkable about these discussions was that they even took place at all. Such frank discussions on hithertho somewhat taboo subjects would have been unthinkable even five years ago. And much of it is due to the openness displayed by the Bishop of Rome, to critical and dissenting views as a source of reflection and discernment.

The Church (and that includes the ordinary people at the grassroots), prompted by the Spirit, is being urged to embark on a new journey of reflection and discovery of what it means to be Christian today. It is an adventure that has only just begun and could take us where we have not gone before, yielding a rich harvest in the process.

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