Some Survey Answers

Back in December the bishops of England and Wales released a series of documents to help us to reflect and prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family Life in October. Part of that document was a survey which purports to be an invitation for us to respond to the Bishops of England and Wales invitation to reflect on the gift of marriage and family life. The suggestion is that our thoughts will help to inform Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Doyle as they prepare for the debates and discussions at the Ordinary Synod on the Family in Rome later this year.

I have to say I feel a little uncomfortable about what the purpose of this consultation actually is. Cynically, I can't help but feel it proffers a pretense of consultation; that is, it aims to make us feel like we have been consulted. After all, our opinion cannot change the deposit of faith, so what's the point?

Perhaps the exercise could be useful to expose and examine the gulf between Catholic doctrine and the degree to which the flock understand and live that teaching? Certainly this was what came across in the answers to the last survey, which I was involved in collating for the diocese.

If that is the plan, I personally would appreciate it if that was made clear. In such a context, the information would prove deeply useful, as it would provide a necessary catalyst for much lacking catechetical programmes and provide stimulus for the New Evangelisation. And lets face it, this is all we need to do; explore and teach the faith. Try to understand the reasons why the Church holds and teaches what it does. That is our duty as disciples of Christ, in humility before almighty God, as adherents to a revealed truth.

Over the last few days it has been brought to my attention that dissenting groups like ACTA are very actively promoting involvement in responding to this survey. Might I invite and encourage faithful Catholics to also respond so as to provide a more truthful picture of the state of play in this country, rather than just that of those who want to change the deposit of faith? The Holy Father states "the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today’s Church.", but surely this is only because people have stopped believing in the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage and put themselves before their God (the sin of idolatry)? It stands to reason that if they were following what the Church taught, the problem would not present itself. And why are we encountering it? Surely only because of the attacks on faith from ideologies which suggest we need to capitulate to more secular ideas about Marriage and relationships?

To that end, I have posted my own responses to the survey questions here in the hope they might assist or inspire you to post your own responses:

7. What are your joys and hopes of marriage and family life today?

My marriage is the foundation of all that I do and of all that I have achieved in my life. It has been the structure which allows me to live out my faith, carefully teaching and loving my children and helping them to grow up knowing & loving Christ. My family support me when I suffer or I am struggling with low self esteem or difficulties at work. My children mean so much to me, the responsibility is a little frightening, but they provide a community that allows us to examine life in the context of what is taught by the Church and encourage each other to work out difficult issues.

I continue to hope my children grow up feeling fulfilled and loved, and my main hope for my marriage at the moment is that I get to live out this vocation with my beloved wife until we are both old and grey!

8. What are your struggles and fears of marriage and family life today?

I feel that the family and marriages are under tremendous pressure to capitulate to the secular narrative which is so damaging to life. As I father of three sons, the presence of pornography, literally everywhere, seems a particularly pressing evil seeking to prey on our weaknesses and divert us from what is good. I also worry about our Catholic schools, which seem to have lost any sense of mission or evangelisation. I am a governor of our local secondary school and the RE syllabus is frankly shocking. The students leave with NO understanding of the faith. What they are taught is, in many regards, worse than nothing, because what they are taught is wrong! The school system seems rife with what Pope Francis terms "businessists" with no other agenda than to further their own aims, using the label "catholic" as a means to this end.

I feel that the Church needs to invest in education so that its wonderful, merciful teaching might be better passed on. GS says the family is the school of deeper humanity (GS52), but at the moment, it feels as if there is a general lack of awareness of the faith among parents, schools and therefore children. We need proper catechesis for those involved in formation in our parishes so that we can pass on the faith as deposited, rather than spurious, personalised versions. This utilitarian distopia is at the heart of the current malaise I feel.

We therefore must face the difficult questions of sex education, pro-life issues, homosexuality, etc, head on and have the courage to take the debate to the secular stage and reclaim our social capital with solid, intelligent, cogent arguments. We must be vocal and keep restating the Catholic position to combat the secular narrative. Our leaders must have courage and state what we believe with mercy and compassion, but also with clarity and simplicity.

9. How can we better understand marriage as a vocation?

I think further work exploring Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body would present us with a great scope for celebrating and sharing the Catholic vision of marriage as vocation. If we can develop this understanding, we can help young couples discerning this vocation think seriously about whether it is right for them or not. We need to have the courage to reflect on the seriousness of this life-long commitment. Emphasis on this makes the discernment process more essential and pertinent. I worry that today the Church shies away from this duty, preferring not to make a fuss and give people what they want, but that is not what a good parent/ teacher does! Especially for young couples, Marriage prep must facilitate a space where they can reflect on the seriousness of their commitment to each other in the context of vocation. Is this what God is calling me to do? Is this how He wants me to serve Him?

Another under-emphasised dimension of the marriage vocation is suffering. Can I suffer with this person? It is a reality we would do well to take seriously, especially in the context of a society which seems intent on selling young people a fairy story. I think the Church has to have the courage to hold up these realities to us, its children, in love, because that is the duty of a parent. Of course it is easier to duck the difficult conversations and just give your child what they want, but that is not usually what is best!

10. How does your marriage enrich you?

If I think deeply about it, I think my marriage presents me with an opportunity to work on being selfless in love. I think I fail at this a lot, but that is what I think Marriage is about, in other words, a way of exploring the uni-personal models of St. Augustine and St.Thomas Aquinas which best help us see the Trinity as the Exemplar for the inter-personal the transcendent Archetype of unity-in-diversity, or, to use a more personal expression, as communion-in-love-without-rivarly. Surely this is what Marriage is all about? It seems to me that this is the way in which the Trinity draws human communities, and the Church, to the goal of communion-in-love-without-rivalry: we are to cherish each one's gifts and individuality in the Body in such a way that he or she can "become more him or herself" in the growth of non-oppressive unity.

Of course the danger is always that human frailty is primarily manifest in the most intimate relationships and wounds most deeply those whom we are to love most fully. But this is enriching in and of itself. Loss does not necessarily detract from love, or cause it to cease. Loss is, of course, natural for all of us, but in a special, more poignant way for those called to Marriage perhaps, because of the depth of sharing and intimacy that is an integral dimension of such relationships. As Alfred Lord Tennyson puts it so aptly:
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
My marriage has seen a great deal of grief, but I thank God that we have had each other to cling to in these times of great suffering and loss.

Similarly, my Marriage has afforded me many occasions to be glad, to feel loved and valued, and for someone to feel that they are proud of you. My wife and I share this mutual affirmation with each other and also with our beloved children. I recently spoke at a new Parish youth group about the faith where my wife was in attendance. Afterwards, she said she was incredibly proud of what I had said and how I had said it. Those words from her, the person who means most to me in my life, meant so very much I really cannot tell you! Marriage then, presents us with an opportunity to love others in the way in which we would truly like to be loved, and thus (I hope) to manifest God's love on earth for someone else.

Prayer of St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
With compassion on this world.
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Those who have God
Find they lack nothing;
God alone suffices.
11. How does your family life enrich those around you?

I think integration and community are essential dimensions of family life. This is part of being Catholic insofar as we live out our lives at the heart of vibrant communities which include schools and parishes. These communities provide countless opportunities for communal enrichment; opportunities to be Christ for others, to love, support, encourage, and fulfill our tri-fold Baptismal ministries of Priest, Prophet and King.

Of course, there are obvious answers to this question; the joy my children give their Grandmother, the shared joy of family members when some achievement is reached. Just being 'a family' is a joyous thing in and of itself, because it is about shared experience and shared love. But perhaps more importantly, there is the public witness and its pedagogical dimension. Liturgy is public witness, for example, where we come together to demonstrate our communio. My two oldest sons, 16 and 18, both serve Mass and have strong faith, and I strongly believe that this presents an example for both peers and older members of our community as well as an encouragement because they are seen as an authentic witness to The Faith. I am regularly asked "how did you do that?" with regard to my sons retention of the faith through their teenage angst. My sons make their community feel proud. They are also active members of the wonderful Brentwood Catholic Youth Service and travel to Lourdes in the Summer with various sick and handicapped members of our diocese. As a family, we believe in being a part of our community, and are involved in several ministries, and catechesis in our parish family and have also worked with the Diocese. We try to share the joy we feel in our faith and in the Gospel with others, and as a loving, devout, Catholic family, we try always to give good example and encouragement to others.

12. In what way, through the abiding presence of God, is your family “salt of the earth and light to the world,” and a place of and for handing on our faith?

First of all, we work on our own personal relationships with God. My wife and I pray together and with our children. We pray at meal times and at bed times. We feel that prayer is an essential part of our lives and very necessary. My wife organises a small Rosary Group of Parish mums which meets every two weeks at different houses and we try to pray the Rosary as a family as often as possible. We have introduced our older children to The Divine Office and encourage them to say morning and evening prayer with Magnificat. We encourage personal devotions in our children, and encourage them to go to Confession regularly. We run our Parish Youth Group together with another mum from the Parish and I am involved in the Confirmation programme too. I have also helped with the drafting of the Diocesan Marriage Preparation Policy Document and get involved with formation for the leaders of Brentwood Youth Service. I have also presented Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series to the parish over a number of weeks, and we had a really good turn-out for that. I try to support my Parish Priest as much as he wants me to and he knows I am always available to help as he requires. I am similarly available to my Diocese and Bishop.

I have found that a big part of modern Catholic reality follows 1 Peter 3: 15; "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence". Training our children in such a way that they feel confident dealing with the challenges of living within a secular, often aggressively Atheistic society is vital for the future of the faith. My children know and practice their faith and take that praxis into their schools and engage, with charity, with the ideas they encounter there from the culture of death.

I also write a well read blog on Catholic issues which I use to share my own personal witness to the beauty and power of my faith and the ways in which it has shaped and helped me in my life.

13. Do you have any other comments?

It really does seem very obvious to me that the future of the Catholic faith lies not in reconciling or capitulating to the vicissitudes of an aggressively secular modern culture, but rather in expounding and teaching the beauty and power of the faith deposited by Jesus Christ. I see the fruits of the kerygma in the work I do in my Parish and Diocese and I see the reality of a strong, orthodox faith growing and being incredibly fruitful throughout the world, the evidence is incontrovertible! The people respond to strong, orthodox leadership because it provides them with confidence in the truths we hold and teach. Please, dear fathers of the synod, do not seek to muddle or obfuscate these truths, but rather state them with courage and clarity. We do not need the truths taught by Jesus to be changed, or mitigated in any way, but you will help lead us by expanding and explaining their purpose and the mercy that these teaching actually hold. Help us to understand clearly!

Now please go and fill it in yourself HERE


  1. This survey link has gone, at least the ones you give (several times). Is it now closed, or what? Conspiracy theorists will abound, perhaps it's just the link that's wrong?

    1. That's a bit strange! Have you tried following it from the Catholic Church England & Wales page about the synod here?


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