A Reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Family

It’s good to be back home!  I returned last night from the Synod of Bishops in Rome, where, for the last two weeks, bishops from all the world, with the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, listened to God’s Holy Word, one another, and married couples in an inspired conversation on Marriage and the Family.

It was clear to me, once again, that the Church is our spiritual family.  So, I’m happy to be back with you, my family, my home, the Church in the archdiocese of New York.

We’ve got a lot of work to do:  I’m still busy raising money for the much-needed repair and restoration of our beloved St. Patrick’s Cathedral; we’re near announcing decisions on the merging of about 12% of our 380 parishes, accepting the recommendations of our priests and people involved in the long Making All Things New process; soon Thanksgiving, and the preparation of soul for Christmas we call Advent will be upon us; and, we better start preparing for a visit by the Holy Father the end of next September.  No, it’s not official yet, but I’m rather confident he’ll spend a day with us in eleven months.

The Synod was fruitful.  Pope Francis set a helpful tone.  When we opened, he encouraged us to be open and honest, and not to look at our conversations as debates or lobbying, where there would be winners or losers.

Then, on Saturday, he closed by observing that we were first and foremost pastors, not advocates for causes, not captives of ideologies, whether of heartless rules, or diluted ideas of mercy and a fixation on change.

In general, those reporting on the Synod did not heed the Holy Father’s counsel.  They prefer the language of tension, victory, loss, conservative vs. liberal, “Pope Francis’ bishops” versus stodgy traditionalists.

I suggested journalists read a good book that’s been around a long time, which they could find on the nightstand in their hotel.  It’s a short book, I observed, written by a man named Luke, whose only previous work was a blockbuster, simply called Gospel.  Luke’s second book’s title is Acts of the Apostles.

There you find a chronicle of the first years of the Church, right after Jesus had returned to heaven.  The pastors of the Church tried their best to commence the mandate given them by the Lord, “to teach all the nations.”  Characterizing their mission was controversy, persecution, sin, setbacks, opposition, debates over tough issues.  But, most of all what marked those first years was deep trust in the assurances given them by Jesus, utter faith in the power of His grace and mercy, a foundation of love for Him and one another, and an inspired growth of those who accepted Jesus and His Church.

Sounds just like the Synod to me . . .  I found a ringing, unanimous affirmation of marriage as the divinely approved way of life for a man and woman united in loving, lifelong, lifegiving marriage, a real “light to the world” in a world that has grown cynical about sacrifice, commitment, babies, and the ability to say “forever.”

And I heard a sensitive invitation, to those whose own marriages and families have been short of what God intends, never to feel alone, always to know that they’re at home in God’s family, the Church – – which at times has its own share of brokenness.

synod  by its nature can hardly change the Church’s teaching.  We Catholics pledge allegiance to what is called a “revealed religion” (so do Jews, other Christians, and Moslems).  That simply means that we believe that God has told us (“revealed”) certain things about Himself and ourselves through the Bible, through our own nature, especially through His Son, all celebrated and taught by His Church.

One such revelation is that He intends the gift and beauty of sexual love only for the loving relationship of a man and woman in lifelong, lifegiving (children!), faithful, marriage.

Such a bond is so radiant, He has revealed to us, that it actually hints at the infinite love enjoyed among Father, Son, and Spirit in the Blessed Trinity, and reflects the personal, passionate love God has for each of us.

Anyone who thought this synod could change that has not read Catholicism for Dummies.  The Church does not change God’s revelation, but attempts tochange us so we can live it.

What was refreshing, though, was a warm, gracious tone, so marvelously personified in Pope Francis, (who would tell us it’s hardly his style, but that of Jesus!), that the Church is at her best when she invites, embraces, understands, welcomes, and affirms, instead of excluding, judging, or condemning.

How to present the timeless teaching of the Church, in all its clarity, as an ennobling, liberating force, while always ready to show mercy to those not yet at the point of full acceptance . . . that’s a challenge as old as, well, the Acts of the Apostles, and as new as last week’s Synod!  

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3 Responses to “A Reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Family”

  1. DottieDay says:

    Can you give us a few specific examples of how priests have been unwelcome, ungracious, disrespectful, unmerciful, and judgmental to homosexuals. Be specific. I have seen none of it yet some clergy are now sermonizing to us in the pews about how WE ought to behave to these irregular (Synod language) families/relationships. I’m beginning to think it is really a problem within the priesthood projected onto us sheep in the pews. (Pope Francis himself has referred to a “gay lobby.”) Maybe some examples would help me understand what WE are doing wrong.

  2. Please be specific by what you mean when you say statements like this:
    “What was refreshing, though, was a warm, gracious tone, so marvelously personified in Pope Francis, (who would tell us it’s hardly his style, but that of Jesus!), that the Church is at her best when she invites, embraces, understands, welcomes, and affirms, instead of excluding, judging, or condemning.”

    How does this relate to full communion within the Church for those divorced and remarried, those active in same-sex relationships, and those who live together outside of marriage?

    Does “invites” mean ability to receive the Eucharist?

    Being that you are a history buff, I just want to bring up the fact that confusion after the Vatican 2 document, regarding how it was interpreted and implemented, resulted in 2 decades of bad catecheses in America.

    I realize that this recent meeting in Rome is the beginning of a long process, with that being said, I sincerely think we all should stop talking in “broad stroke language” and reconcile clearly what you mean by these two statements:
    1) “And I heard a sensitive invitation, to those whose own marriages and families have been short of what God intends, never to feel alone, always to know that they’re at home in God’s family, the Church – – which at times has its own share of brokenness.

    2) “A synod by its nature can hardly change the Church’s teaching. We Catholics pledge allegiance to what is called a “revealed religion” (so do Jews, other Christians, and Moslems). That simply means that we believe that God has told us (“revealed”) certain things about Himself and ourselves through the Bible, through our own nature, especially through His Son, all celebrated and taught by His Church.”

    Jesus tells us in the Gospel: Let your “yes” be “yes” & your “no” be “no” (Mt 5:37) – There is no better time than the present for the Church to start listening to those words.

    Trust me; I am not some hardliner who does not understand what the Holy Father is trying to do here. I am all for loving and reaching out to those who are on the peripheral of society. With that being said, ambiguity and lack of clarity does not serve anyone. I did not go to the Gregorian in Rome nor do I speak 5 languages but I do know one thing, Jesus did not parse words, He told it like it is, always in love but always like it was.

    Count on our daily prayers when we say the family Rosary before bed
    Your son in Christ
    Joe

  3. Ursula says:

    I agree with what both Dottie and Joe have said. I hope that being in the Synod was as you say it was but the interim ‘relation’ has given me grave misgivings. What I hear ‘officially’ from the Church these days mostly sounds like speaking out of both sides of her mouth to me. I wish that I did not live in what is still to me a ‘mission land’ of the Church, here in Mississippi. I would much prefer to be an Eastern Rite Catholic! I find it far too confusing being a Latin Rite Catholic…