Opening of the Synod of Bishops on the Family

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Though the World Meeting of Families is a triannual event, this year’s gathering in Philadelphia was particularly significant as it served as a joyful introduction to the most important themes of the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which begins in Rome tomorrow and will end on October 25. We often hear Pope Francis speak to the essential and foundational role the family plays in society and how it needs our support and encouragement if society itself is to thrive. In his speech to Congress, he noted his profound concern for the family, “which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life” (Address of September 24, 2015)..

The vocational mandate of the family to be the building block of society has a supernatural meaning as well. Our Holy Father is calling all Catholic families to be signs, in the sense that a sign is an object that points beyond itself. It signifies something else, something greater than itself. Marriage is an effective and lasting sign. The unity of the spouses is as enduring as God’s communion with the Church. It is brought about not merely by their human wills but by an act of God, to which they give their full and free consent. Every married couple is a living sermon and so, therefore, is every Catholic family. This is a tremendous responsibility for the couple and family and comes with not a few challenges.

Over the past year, dioceses all over the world, including the Archdiocese of Washington, responded to a questionnaire about the fruits and challenges of family life in each diocese’s particular situation. All of these responses were gathered into the Instrumentum Laboris, which is the working document serves as a bridge between the work of the Extraordinary Synod last October and will guide the reflection and discussions of the Synod about to begin.

As explained by Cardinal Baldisseri, the General Secretary of the Synod, the three sections of the Instrumentum Laboris “illustrate the continuity between the two Assembles.” The first part, “Considering the Challenges of the Family,” draws more directly from last year’s Synod, the first phase of the process, while the second and third parts, “the Discernment of the Vocation of the Family” and “The Mission of the Family Today” introduce the topic of this Ordinary Synod, which has the “intention of offering to the Church and the contemporary world pastoral incentives to spur renewed efforts in evangelization.”

The work of the third section draws together the idea of the marriage as a sign and the mission of married couple and families to society. Hopefully one of the fruits of the Synod will be a vision for how married couples can be formed and called upon to be visible signs of God’s self-giving and how in the context of contemporary American culture can they signify God’s lasting love for his people. Married couples signify both the cross of Jesus and his glory. They point to the very life of the Trinity in heaven.

During the Synod last year, the participants heard the testimonies of various married couples and as I reflected on them, I recalled my own experiences with married couples in my ministry. These experiences and others then formed the basis for a new book that I recently wrote, The Marriage God Wants for You, to help people gain a greater knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of marriage and family. In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you some excerpts from this book.

Also over the next few weeks, I ask you to join me in praying for the work of the Synod, that together we can strengthen the vocation and mission of marriage and families and that Catholic family life will be a sermon to the world of God’s faithful and fruitful love.