With the celebration of Holy Mass yesterday, the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome came to a close. Together with an Extraordinary Synod held last year, this gathering of bishops representative of the Church in different parts of the world, joined by a variety of experts and observers, was asked by Pope Francis to consider questions concerning marriage and family in our world today. More specifically, the two synods were tasked with reflecting upon, discussing, and offering suggestions with respect to the vocation and mission of marriage and family, the myriad challenges to them, evangelization of society and culture with respect to marriage and family, and also how best to pastorally care for married couples and their families, including both strengthening marital and family life, and helping to heal those marriages and families that are wounded or broken.
It was a great privilege for me to participate in both of these synods on the family, which are intended to be viewed as part of a single process. While the many challenges might seem daunting, while the landscape may appear dark, I have seen throughout many bright lights, including the testimonies of faithful married couples at the synods and also the witness of couples and families I see every day in our own archdiocesan Church of Washington. It has been heartening also to see the wide range of involvement throughout the Church and society to consider ways to foster marriage and family.
The work of these two assemblies of bishops was supplemented formally and informally by input from dioceses and other religious communities from around the world; an array of books, articles and speeches by bishops, priests, and laity; and vigorous discussion on the Internet, in letters to the editor, and amongst family and friends. To this we can add the huge media attention – some reports more accurate than others. In a certain way, the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia served as a prelude to the recently-concluded Synod. The vast breadth of discussion about the Synod and the issues pertaining to marriage and family – which we can safely estimate involved millions of people – shows the vast breadth of concern for these fundamental realities of human existence. Deep down in the heart of humanity is the realization that marriage and family are critically important.
The extent of these discussions, some quite animated, also demonstrates the importance that people place on our Catholic faith as revealed truth. They understand that the beautiful and scripturally-rooted vision of human love that we strive to live and offer to the world is Good News that is essential if our society is to survive.
Throughout the Synod process, Pope Francis has called us to reflection, prayer, listening to one another and being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Answers to questionnaires that had been sent to dioceses and communities were used to create the working document for the 2014 Synod, which in turn served as a starting point for discussion by the Synod Fathers. These talks were the basis for a report that effectively guided the discussion in the recently concluded 2015 Synod.
At this latter gathering, the Synod Fathers both met as a whole and also broke out into smaller discussion groups. Our Holy Father also addressed the assembly to open and close the Synod. What was heard in the interventions, that is, in the short speeches to the gathering, as well as in the discussion groups, was doctrinal affirmation, awareness of the challenges to family life today, and also proposed pastoral practices which our present situation requires. The Synod understood that what is needed now is a way to bring people to experience the love and mercy of God, even if different specific approaches were advocated on this point or that. On the whole, this has been a positive process that I believe will bear great fruit, spiritually and pastorally.
What comes next after all of this reflection, discussion, and exchange of ideas and pastoral reflections over nearly the last two years? Now our Holy Father in his Petrine ministry will engage in concrete action to make the aim of the Synod a reality. To a certain degree, Pope Francis has done this already with a revision of some of the rules governing annulment proceedings. Added to that, we can expect him to take further pastoral steps to support and sustain married couples and families in their lives, bring hope and healing to those who find themselves in difficult situations, and encourage a civilization of love that values and fosters marriage and children, including urging Christian families to bear witness to God’s saving love and grace.
During this time, while the Synod is officially concluded, the work goes on and I ask your continued prayers for the renewal of marriage, family and the entire world.