This past week, Rome hosted two very different, but important meetings. The first was at the Vatican, chaired by Pope Francis himself, as a meeting of the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops. This was a preparatory meeting held to get ready for October’s Synod on the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and Society.
The Synod Fathers examined the working documents, which had been prepared with the help of the worldwide questionnaires sent to dioceses, as well as from feedback about what was working and what was not from the first part of the Synod last year. From all accounts, it was a very positive, very helpful meeting, and seriously addressed what was perceived as a major flaw from last October’s synod, namely the seeming lack of transparency concerning the discussion of the Synod Fathers. A short verbal summary from each session replaced longer, more detailed ones given in previous synods. Some feel that these shorter summaries lead to more speculation on the part of the press as to what’s really going on in the Synod.
Also there was a private conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University called “Mutual Convention of the French, German and Swiss Bishops Conferences concerning the issues of the pastoral care of marriage and family at the eve of the Synod of Bishops.” (See news story.) The meeting was by invitation only, with only about 50 participants. From all reports, it discussed being more open to changing Church teaching and pastoral practice toward same-sex couples and the divorced and remarried.
If the Synod is going to be successful, if it is truly going to be a time of discussion, interchange, openness and dialogue, then the participants need to be on the same page, perhaps not in approach to pastoral practice, but in the affirmation of the fonts of Divine Revelation: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as well as in an understanding of the official teaching of the Church, the Magisterium. Cardinals need to consult with theologians and with each other, but they have to avoid at all costs any image of a “divided Church.”
What can we do to prepare for the Synod? Well, it’s pretty simple for us: First, pray that God’s will is done in the working of the Synod. Pray that the Synodal Fathers are able to use their experience, their understanding and their insight in the analysis of these issues, and having done so, will be able to truly see, truly judge and then truly enact not only what’s good for their own dioceses and countries, but also what’s good for the Church.
The second thing that we can do is to read up on these issues. The Church needs just as much the anchor provided by the consistent teachings of the Church, the basic sacramental theology of the Church, especially on marriage, as well as the basic philosophical underpinning that is natural law.
Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the nature of the sacrament of marriage; read what Pope Francis has said in “Evangelii Gaudium” and in his addresses; read the documents of Vatican II; and finally, if you have questions, ask! Seek out an adult discussion group on these topics; ask a priest, religious, deacon or a knowledgeable catechist about some of your questions.
The October Synod will soon be here, and for the next several months, we’ll be reading all sorts of stories about the need to change this or to keep this, some arguing from the point of view of mercy, others from the point of view of justice (as if these two could possibly be in opposition).
Pray, study and keep your faith in the unsinkable barque of Peter strong as it leads us closer to Christ, and to eternal life.