By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Pastoral Synod on the Family has been launched in the Catholic world, and it has created a buzz far beyond the corridors of the Vatican, and the confines of Catholic parishes and ministries throughout the world. Representatives from around the world, laity and bishops, gathered in Rome for two weeks to wrestle with the realities that affirm and afflict marriage and family in the modern world.
When I attended the orientation sessions for new bishops in Rome in September it was emphasized time and again that the Synod is called pastoral because its purpose is to strengthen the bonds of marriage and family, and to reconcile those who have been hurt by the very institution that God established to be life-giving. It is not a Synod whose purpose is to change the Church’s teaching on marriage. But, to apply the wisdom of “Guadium et Spes,” the landmark document of the Second Vatican Council, it is absolutely necessary to read the signs of the times in the modern world, and to respond in loving service while being faithful to the Church’s tradition. Without a doubt, this is a herculean task before us.
Consistent with his philosophy for the Catholic Church as expressed in the “Joy of the Gospel,” the Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, Pope Francis encouraged a climate of openness embodied in dialogue and discernment in light of the mystery of God’s gaze upon us. In other words, it is an open process that is intended to create a bond of trust and communion in order to better serve the People of God. Of course, this led to some feisty conversations among the Synod’s participants, and an intense trolling by the secular media to expose any fault lines in the Church’s unity. Part of Pope Francis’ closing statement is on page 17 of this edition of Mississippi Catholic and I would like to highlight several of his observations.
At the end of the Synod he reminded everyone that we “still have one more year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront, to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”
The knowledge and wisdom produced by painstaking efforts will not lay dormant in some bureaucrat’s file cabinet. The year ahead will mirror the year that led to the Synod in Rome with active participation from many stakeholders in every corner of the Catholic world.
The Pope describes the immediate future as “one year to provide a faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups.” The year ahead will be a time for the fine wine of the Synod’s deliberations to age so that Pope Francis can fashion for the Church an Apostolic Exhortation that will guide and inspire us for years to come.
The Pope astutely pointed out in his closing remarks that there are inevitable temptations that can undercut our long journey together. There is the temptation to ‘hostile inflexibility” that bars the doors against any surprises from the Holy Spirit. This is the frozen terrain of the rigid traditionalist. Likewise, there is the temptation of the ‘do-gooders” who in the name of deceptive mercy, bind the wounds without curing them and treating them. These are the so-called progressives and liberals. The latter is the temptation “to turn stones into bread to break the hard fast, and the former is the temptation to transform the bread into stones and cast them against the sinners, the weak and the sick, that is to transform it into unbearable burdens.”
The Pope continues powerfully. “The temptation is to neglect the deposit of faith, to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not to stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father, to bow down to the worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.” Likewise, there is “the temptation to neglect reality” the veritable ostrich with one’s head in the ground as the world turns.
The work ahead is a critical mission on behalf of the family, society and the church. Pope Francis, with heartfelt concern, reveals the path of compassion and truth. “I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the supreme law, the ‘good of souls.’ And this always we have said here in the Hall without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Marriage; its indissolubility, unity, faithfulness, fruitfulness, and openness to life. …And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wounds; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. It is the Church not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and sinners.
The joy and hope of the gospel for all people is crystal clear in the closing reflections of Pope Francis, opening the door to a year of grace and favor from the Lord that is intended to guide the Church deeper into the mystery of God. It’s an exciting time.
May the Holy Spirit open our minds and hearts to know the goodness of the Lord.
In synod, Holy Spirit just starting
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz