Monday, October 5, 2015

The Synod Starts

After the solemn Opening Mass in Rome yesterday (photo), the Synod of bishops gets down to business today. The 279 voting members of the three-week long Synod will start their deliberations with two days of general discussion, after which they will break into circuli minores ("small groups"). Synod procedures are not aimed at the public and traditionally have not generated much interest outside the Synod Hall. 

But this synod (Like last year's) promises to be somewhat different in that there is already such widespread outside interest - in part because of the salience of the topic, but mainly because of the appearance of profound and intense conflict among the Synod Fathers that has highlighted the seriousness of the issues at stake, and also the unusual sense that no one really knows what outcomes to expect. 

In his homily at yesterday's opening Mass, Pope Francis called the Synod a "moment of grace." He focused his homily on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family. 

Starting with Genesis' image of Adam's solitude prior to the creation of Eve, Pope Francis offered a stark picture of contemporary culture: “the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom.”

To this, Francis proposed what biblical revelation has revealed about God's original alternative to human loneliness. "God’s dream for his beloved creation," Francis recalled, is "to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self." In his response to the pharisees' attempt to trap him in the gospel, Jesus, the Pope reminded the Synod Fathers,  “brings everything back to the beginning, to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility.”

The Pope then challenged the Church to respond to today's context and "to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love."

First, "in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously."

Second, “in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds.”

And, then third, "in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; even more, to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.”

Holding those three demands - fidelity, truth, and charity - together is, of course, the great dilemma which challenges the Church int he face of so many families in crisis and society in crisis. However distinctive today's circumstances may be, it is not a novel dilemma, but one which, one might say, was evident in the very ministry of Jesus and all throughout the historical continuation of that ministry in the day-to-day life and work of the Church.

Fittingly, Pope Francis ended by quoting from Saint John Paul II's 1978 address to Italian Catholic Action: ““Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time."

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