Pope Francis arrives to lead a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 9. (CNS/Paul Haring)
At the end of the first week of the Synod (meeting of world bishops focusing on the family), I would like to call your attention to some of what happened during the week in the Aula with Pope Francis and the bishops of the Synod. The Holy Father spoke twice.
First he gave his opening talk in which he placed the General Synod in context with last year’s extraordinary synod. He called the Synod fathers to openness and honesty. He invited them to speak freely, not in competition or to “score points.” Rather, trusting the Holy Spirit, they should let their open exchange of ideas deepen their own commitment to the truth and to the pastoral service to marriage and the family which is at the heart of their role as shepherds.
The next day he re-affirmed the process of the Synod and the names of the “writing committee,” both of which had come under some criticism by a number of bishops because of concerns that there was too much secrecy and too little consultation from within the Secretariat of the Synod.
Two things emerged in the general discussion which were reflected in the small working groups who met according to their language of origin. First there was many who found the IL, the “Working Paper” that was prepared by the Secretariat to be too negative. It had many good aspects but in the minds of very many bishops it needed to refocus itself as a document of hope and inspiration instead of a list of problems and difficulties.
The second was the tone set by the U.S. bishops, both Archbishop Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia who had just finished hosting the World Meeting of Families in his home city. Both stressed the positive aspects of marriage and family life. Both sought to support and celebrate families that, often against many odds, live marriage and family life in ways that are exemplary and truly holy.
Archbishop Chaput acknowledged all the problems that paragraphs 7-10 of the IL described. But then went on:
“Overall the text engenders a subtle hopelessness. This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals – which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church.
“The work of this Synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.
“We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them – not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman. This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”
Please continue to pray for the Holy Father and my brother bishops at this Synod which continues for the next two weeks.