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.
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.
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!