Hervé Janson, the superior general of the Little Brother of Jesus, was the only non-priest who participated in the Synod on the Family with voice and vote, having been elected to represent the Union of Superior Generals. The following is a translation of his intervention at the synod.
First of all, I would like to clarify the uniqueness of my situation among you, bishops from all over the earth, since I am a simple brother, the moderator of a religious congregation which is international, to be sure, but very modest, with less than two hundred brothers: the Little Brothers of Jesus, inspired by the example of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.
My brothers of the Union of Superior Generals told me that they voted for me because, by our vocation, in the imitation of Jesus of Nazareth, we live among the people in their neighbourhoods, shoulder to shoulder with very simple families who often struggle as best they can to live and bring up their children. We are witnesses of so many families who, for me, are models of holiness; they are the ones who will receive us into the kingdom! And sometimes, I suffer from what our mother the church imposes on their backs, burdens which we ourselves would not be able to support, as Jesus said to the Pharisees! For there are many women and men who suffer from being rejected by their pastors. Through a very special grace which dumbfounds me but for which I should thank you, I find myself the only brother who is a full-fledged member of this synod of bishops which is reflecting on the situations and mission of families. Astonishment and trembling, all the more so in so far as the status of the sisters is different, the same as that of the families. But we cannot ignore the fact that families make up the immense majority of the People of God that we are. But what value do we give to our reflection upon them?
There is an Oriental proverb that says: “Before you judge anyone, put on his sandals!” The paradox of this affair: we are all celibates, for the most part. But can we at least listen to people, listen to their sufferings, their propositions, their thirst for recognition and proximity?
I am thinking of these African Christian women I knew when I lived in Cameroon, spouses of a polygamous Muslim husband: they felt excluded from the church, unaccompanied, very much alone.
Among others, I think of a Belgium family, good friends of mine; one of their daughters has admitted that she has lesbian tendencies, is living with another young woman and has decided to have a child through artificial insemination. The problem is how the parents should react, precisely as Christians parents. They have showered her with treasures of sensitivity, tenderness, and proximity!
Is the church not also a family and should it not have the same attitudes toward these men, these women so often helpless, in doubt and in darkness, feeling themselves excluded. What kind of proximity? What kind of accompaniment? What sort of attitude would Jesus have and what would he do in our place, as Father de Foucauld always asked himself? He was filled with compassion when he saw the abandoned crowds.
He restored hope to this Samaritan woman by speaking to her, this foreign heretic in the eyes of the Jews, she who had had five husbands! “If you knew the gift of God!” There are so many men and women—to say nothing of the children who are always the first victims—who have need of tenderness and love, need that someone open their door to them: yes, whether they be divorced and remarried, homosexuals, spouses in polygamist households, they are all brothers and sisters of Jesus, and hence our family! We who are all sinners, are invited to love one another and to let ourselves be comforted and healed by Jesus who came not for the healthy but for the sick. The Eucharist is the food of those who are in the process of forming the Body of Christ.
The mercy of God is for everyone. Jesus did not come to judge but to save what was lost. He gave his apostles and their successors a heavy responsibility with regard to his mercy: that of binding it or loosening it. Let us be firmly attached to Jesus and let us loosen through the Spirit which makes us free and links us together to Life.
Our “common home”, as Pope Francis likes to call it, is dear to us and it is together that we have to repair it and maintain it, for we are all responsible for the beauty of each of its rooms; to cultivate, like flowers, kindness and mercy, so that each one of us might rejoice in the liberty of the sons of a same Father who loves us, and witness to the joy of the Gospel.
When the Pharisees reproach the disciples for tearing off grains of wheat to eat on a Sabbath, Jesus looks first of all at the human person who is hungry before any possible disobedience to the Law (Matthew 12:1–8). At this synod, we have to look with compassion at the person who hungers for mercy, proximity, and recognition, the person who hungers for Jesus who lifts us up, nourishes us, restores us to life. Will we be the disciples of him “who does not crush the bruised reed, who does not quench the smouldering wick”? (Matthew 12:20). If the church is the family of families, to what revolution of proximity, tenderness, and mercy is she not invited—and expected?
Jerry Ryan, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on 23 January 2015. Requiescat in pace.
With thanks to Commonweal Magazine, Br Hervé Janson and Jerry Ryan, where this article originally appeared.