NEWS FOR THE FAMILY !
DAVID THOMAS IN LEEDS
the 1980 Synod on the Family Pope John Paul II affirmed the importance of the
family and urged pastoral support of the family in the Church as 'a matter of
urgency'. David Thomas, theologian and father, responded generously and
creatively to that call by setting a course in Family Ministry in his hometown
of Denver. David is an inspirational speaker who has gained an international
reputation for his work on Church and family and I was delighted when Sr Anne
Conway invited me to attend one of his recent seminars at Hinsley Hall.
seminars were spread over three days with a slightly different focus for each
day. Day 1 (which I attended) was for those presenting marriage preparation or
enrichment courses. Day 2 was a day of reflection for married people and Day 3
was an opportunity for young people to explore the meaning and value of marriage
and family life. Day 1 started very well indeed with a clear programme
designed to include consideration of the theology of marriage, the prevailing
cultural context within which marriage takes place and finally a look at some of
the practical pastoral implications arising from these. Coffee, lunch and tea
breaks were built into the day at regular intervals and it speaks volumes for
the quality of David's delivery that no-one, except Sr Anne who had a
responsibility to make sure we were all fed and watered, seemed to care very
much about breaking off to eat and drink. However, eat and drink we did thanks
to Anne's skilful interventions.
speakers are not exactly new but what did surprise me was how many people who
had already done David's MA in Family Ministry made the effort to come from far
and wide (I met people from Wales, Manchester and Newcastle) to hear him speak.
Before the first coffee break I understood why they had made the effort.
a theologian David's delivery of the Scriptural roots of Church thinking on
marriage and family life was masterly. From Genesis through Saints Augustine and
Thomas Aquinas to the post Vatican 11 Church, he showed how Scripture had been
interpreted. (He also discussed recent archaeological discoveries in the Holy
Land, which raise interesting questions about how we understand Jesus' own
cultural background and that of His disciples who now begin to appear as skilled
international traders in fish rather than simple domestic fishermen.)
the Scriptural context David explained how the 'Church' had gone from an
understanding of marriage as primarily a function of the body, through an
understanding of its more cerebral intimacy, to eventually recognising the
powerful and creative role of marriage in spiritual growth. Here at last was
someone who made sense of the oft repeated, but little believed, mantra of our
clergy these days that we (the laity) are not necessarily second rate
Christians. The way David Thomas explains it puts the married couple (with or
without children) at the very heart of God's energising, flowing, creating love
in the world. Sin, he went on in an aside, can be best understood as anything
that blocks that flow of love.
were warnings too for people who are involved in family ministry in their
Value the uniqueness of every relationship and avoid
implying that yours (however good and happy it might be) is a model to be
copied. As each of us is created anew and unique in the sight of God, so each
relationship between two people must itself also be completely unique.
Where there is love, there is God, whether or not this
is recognised or accepted by the couple (in other words you don't have to be
catholic to love and be loved!)
a splendid lunch we returned to the question of the cultural context within
which marriages are lived. This session began with a brainstorming exercise to
elicit all that was supportive of marriage in our world today. This proved to be
surprise number two of the day for me, as we had no difficulty filling up the
flip charts and whiteboard with all the positives from equality between the
sexes through to higher expectations of personal satisfaction. Surprise number
three followed quickly as we realised that every single positive was also a
potential negative. Of course it works the other way around too.
Any negative you can come up with can be seen to have positive
possibilities in it as well. So by the end of this session not only had we been
exposed to a God whose love energises all our relationships, but also to a
people with a tremendous potential for hope.
unique gift to us that day was not just the intellectual
excitement, coherence and
vision of his words (although they were all there). Rather, it was his personal
sharing with us of some aspects of his own journey in family life. With several
children and many, many foster children he bore witness to the practical
everyday (and even more tragic) difficulties of family life experienced even by
theologians of the family. In this the day was rounded off with a sense of the
power of the family in family life and so, perhaps unwittingly, he managed to
speak of faith, hope and love and to show how family life is the great crucible
through which these gifts of the Spirit are most needed, most visible and most
The day ended before we had managed to get to the pastoral implications of all this. However, people went away energised and it seemed fitting somehow that this section was left out. The pastoral implications are, almost by definition, for us to wrestle with within our own parish communities. Just as each individual and each couple is unique, so must each Christian community be. We are, though, all parts of one body and if there is one thing David Thomas left me with that day it was a sense of the abundance of God's love in the world. A love that is not confined to hierarchies, but is rooted in our everyday relations with each other and is expressed and nourished in the Eucharist.
article first appeared in the Leeds Diocese Catholic Post. Breda
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