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(Part 105)


October 28, 2015

How did the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops go? How did it end? What does our Church have to look forward to, or to fear? Both liberals and conservatives claim “victory” (yes, it was a fight) and so there is no outright clarity as to the end-result. The American Church is split in the middle, the West European and African Churches are on opposite sides (generally speaking), and all the rest are on both sides of the pastoral-theological divide. Beyond the Synod, the liberal prelates will continue to maneuver and the traditional prelates will continue to be watchful and protective of our centuries-old faith. Tensions remain and conflicts will surface. Even, God forbid, schism cannot be ruled out.

At this point, we look to the closing message of Pope Francis. The Relatio Finalis is submitted to him but has no authoritative power. It is up to the pope what to do with the report and what to bring out later as his own authoritative position.

Anyway, one thing this Synod has brought to the fore is that there indeed are prelates who are intent on liberalizing the pastoral practices of our Church. And there are not just a few of them. What does that mean for us the laity, those who actually are directly involved in living out marriage, family and life?

Well, this is our Church and we look to and are obedient to the head of this body, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus does indeed have his pastors, but just like in the Old Testament, if those shepherds prove unfaithful, then they are condemned. We are not to follow in their errors. Thus as the people of God, we need to know our faith, and we need to directly stand for and defend our faith. We are not just to rely on our bishops, especially if they prove unfaithful.

Pope Francis’ closing statement is our starting point. With great respect for our pope, allow me to give my inputs, as a layperson deeply involved in the life and mission of our Church (I place these inputs in RED below).


Interpreting Reality through God's Eyes

by Pope Francis

Pope Francis Address at Conclusion of the Synod of Bishops 2015

On October 24, 2015, the Synod on the Family came to a close when the Synod Fathers voted paragraph by paragraph on the final text. At the end of the vote the text was presented to the Holy Father. All 94 points received the required two-thirds majority vote. Pope Francis then delivered this closing address. He too begun by thanking all those involved in Synod. The Holy Father said now that the Synod has come to an end he asks "What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?" He said that the Synod was not about settling issues but attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church's tradition and two thousand year history. The Pope said that it was about interpreting reality through God's eyes.

Vatican, October 24, 2015

* * *

Dear Beatitudes, Eminences and Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would like first of all to thank the Lord, who has guided our synodal process in these years by his Holy Spirit, whose support is never lacking to the Church.

My heartfelt thanks go to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, its Under-Secretary, and, together with them, the Relator, Cardinal Peter Erd , and the Special Secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte, the Delegate Presidents, the writers, the consultors, the translators and the singers, and all those who have worked tirelessly and with total dedication to the Church: My deepest thanks! I would also like to thank the Commission which made the report; some of them were up all night!

I thank all of you, dear Synod Fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors and Assessors, parish priests and families, for your active and fruitful participation.

And I thank all those unnamed men and women who contributed generously to the labours of this Synod by quietly working behind the scenes.

Be assured of my prayers, that the Lord will reward all of you with his abundant gifts of grace!

As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?

Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.

My input: Everything should be done in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand year history. Pastoral practice cannot be conformed to the spirit of the age, or adapted from place to place according to the secular culture (unless not in contradiction to the faith).

Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.

It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.

My input: Marriage and family are of the utmost importance for the life of the world­for society and for the Church. Sacramental life-long marriage and Christian family life are to be defended and strengthened. At the same time, we recognize the intent of the evil one to precisely destroy, or severely weaken, these important institutions. We must resist this assault with all our might.

It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.

It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.

It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

It was also about laying bare closed hearts, which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.

My input: Our hearts must always be open to the grace and mercy of God and the newness of the Spirit. But we must stand on our Church’s (Jesus’) teachings. And if these teachings are violated, we must say so, not with superiority but in loving humility, desiring only to bring true healing and the experience of true mercy.

It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.

My input: We are the poor in spirit who seek God’s mercy so that we might attain to the holiness that God desires for us.

It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

My input: Unfortunately it does seem that there were conspiracies. And while we must always be open to the radical leadings of the Spirit bringing us to new horizons, we do not neglect established viewpoints, established precisely because they stand on God’s word.

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.[1]

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and every general principle – as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s magisterium – every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.[2] The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”.[3] Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.[4]

My input: Yes there are very diverse cultures and there is a need to inculturate the gospel. However, the profound truths of the gospel transcend cultural differences. Same-sex marriage is an abomination even if legalized by the US Supreme Court. Sex outside sacramental marriage is wrong even in the face of the Sexual Revolution in the West. Polygamy is wrong even if culturally and legally accepted in Africa. It should not be the Church to adapt herself to what is acceptable to the local culture (unless there is no violation of belief) but for her to be counter-cultural, to proclaim the truth of the gospel even as such truths are often in contradiction to the ways of the world in which she exists. The Church is to change the world so that it will conform to Christ, not to be changed by the world and conformed to its ways.
We have seen, also by the richness of our diversity, that the same challenge is ever before us: that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.

My input: The greatest threats now to faith, family and life are the reproductive health and gender ideologies, pushed by cultural Marxism and founded on secular humanism. At the forefront is liberalization in the whole area of human sexuality. At the Synod, the Trojan horse was acceptance of such liberalization, in the form of accompaniment for living-in couples (that used to be called “living in sin”!), provision of holy Communion to the divorced and remarried, and finding good in homosexual unions. These are couched in terms of being merciful. But things are not that simple. The evil one is not that simple. There is a diabolical plan, to destroy faith, family and life. These are just the very first small steps. If we do not stand on the truth of the gospel, we will be stepping on the slippery slope to destruction. The Protestant Churches already went this way, and they today can no longer be considered authentic Christian Churches.

And without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonizing others, we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that “all be saved” (cf. 1 Tm 2:4). In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy which the Church is called to celebrated.

My input: Indeed, only by the mercy and grace of God are we saved. Those of us who are saved want the same for others. This is why we insist on not going the way of false mercy, which will not lead to salvation but to condemnation.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae – they are necessary – or from the importance of laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy (cf. Rom 3:21-30; Ps 129; Lk 11:47-54). It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother (cf. Lk 15:25-32) and the jealous labourers (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).

In this sense, the necessary human repentance, works and efforts take on a deeper meaning, not as the price of that salvation freely won for us by Christ on the cross, but as a response to the One who loved us first and saved us at the cost of his innocent blood, while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5:6).

My input: Unlike the older brother, we rejoice if others repent and return to the Father. Unlike the jealous laborers, we rejoice in the privilege of having been called early and laboring hard for the gospel, as we bring others who came in later into the same Kingdom. Thus what is of crucial importance is repentance, which is the way by which we sinners appropriate the free gift of God’s salvation.

The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).

My input: Our task as Church is to seek the lost and help bring them back to God and back to the Church. This happens as they are led to conversion and to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. This happens are sinners are led to repentance from sin. This is how they experience the fullness of God’s mercy.

Blessed Paul VI expressed this eloquently: “”We can imagine, then, that each of our sins, our attempts to turn our back on God, kindles in him a more intense flame of love, a desire to bring us back to himself and to his saving plan… God, in Christ, shows himself to be infinitely good… God is good. Not only in himself; God is – let us say it with tears – good for us. He loves us, he seeks us out, he thinks of us, he knows us, he touches our hearts us and he waits for us. He will be – so to say – delighted on the day when we return and say: ‘Lord, in your goodness, forgive me. Thus our repentance becomes God’s joy”.[5]
My input: This is precisely why we should not accommodate people in their sin, but rather lovingly help them overcome sin and be brought to life-giving repentance.

Saint John Paul II also stated that: “the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy… and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser”.[6]

Benedict XVI, too, said: “Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God… May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for mankind. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth, or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10)”.[7]

In light of all this, and thanks to this time of grace which the Church has experienced in discussing the family, we feel mutually enriched. Many of us have felt the working of the Holy Spirit who is the real protagonist and guide of the Synod. For all of us, the word “family” does have the same sound as it did before the Synod, so much so that the word itself already contains the richness of the family’s vocation and the significance of the labours of the Synod.[8]

In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true “journeying together” in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!

My input: Let us go about the work of proclaiming the gospel of salvation in Jesus to the very ends of the earth. This work is urgent. The time is now!

Thank you!

[1]Cf. Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina on the Centenary of its Faculty of Theology, 3 March 2015.
[2] Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia. Atti della Sessione plenaria 1979 della Pontificia Commissione Biblica, LDC, Leumann, 1981; SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Gaudium et Spes, 44.
[3]Final Relatio (7 December 1985), L’Osservatore Romano, 10 December 1985, 7.
[4] “In virtue of her pastoral mission, the Church must remain ever attentive to historical changes and to the development of new ways of thinking. Not, of course, to submit to them, but rather to surmount obstacles standing in the way of accepting her counsels and directives” (Interview with Cardinal Georges Cottier, in La Civiltà Cattolica 3963-3964, 8 August 2015, p. 272).
[5] Homily, 23 June 1968: Insegnamenti VI (1968), 1177-1178.
[6] Dives in Misericordia, 13. He also said: “In the paschal mystery… God appears to us as he is: a tender-hearted Father, who does not give up in the face of his childrens’ ingratitude and is always ready to forgive (JOHN PAUL II, Regina Coeli, 23 April 1995: Insegnamenti XVIII, 1 [1995], 1035). So too he described resistance to mercy: “The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness…” (Dives in Misericordia [30 November 1980] 2).
[7]Regina Coeli, 30 March 2008: Insegnamenti IV, 1 (2008), 489-490. Speaking of the power of mercy, he stated: “it is mercy that sets a limit to evil. In it is expressed God’s special nature – his holiness, the power of truth and of love” (Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 15 April 2007: Insegnamenti III, 1 [2007], 667).
[8] An acrostic look at the word “family” [Italian: “famiglia”] can help us summarize the Church’s mission as the task of: Forming new generations to experience love seriously, not as an individualistic search for a pleasure then to be discarded, and to believe once again in true, fruitful and lasting love as the sole way of emerging from ourselves and being open to others, leaving loneliness behind, living according to God’s will, finding fulfilment, realizing that marriage is “an experience which reveals God’s love, defending the sacredness of life, every life, 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” (Homily for the Opening Mass of the Synod, 4 October 2015: L’Osservatore Romano, 5-6 October 2015, p. 7) and, furthermore, enhancing marriage preparation as a means of providing a deeper understanding of the Christian meaning of the sacrament of Matrimony; Approaching others, since a Church closed in on herself is a dead Church, while a Church which does leave her own precincts behind in order to seek, embrace and lead others to Christ is a Church which betrays her very mission and calling; Manifesting and bringing God’s mercy to families in need; to the abandoned, to the neglected elderly, to children pained by the separation of their parents, to poor families struggling to survive, to sinners knocking on our doors and those who are far away, to the differently able, to all those hurting in soul and body, and to couples torn by grief, sickness, death or persecution; Illuminating consciences often assailed by harmful and subtle dynamics which even attempt to replace God the Creator, dynamics which must be unmasked and resisted in full respect for the dignity of each person; Gaining and humbly rebuilding trust in the Church, which has been gravely weakened as a result of the conduct and sins of her children – sadly, the counter-witness of scandals committed in the Church by some clerics have damaged her credibility and obscured the brightness of her saving message; Labouring intensely to sustain and encourage those many strong and faithful families which, in the midst of their daily struggles, continue to give a great witness of fidelity to the Church’s teachings and the Lord’s commandments; Inventing renewed programmes of pastoral care for the family based on the Gospel and respectful of cultural differences, pastoral care which is capable of communicating the Good News in an attractive and positive manner and helping banish from young hearts the fear of making definitive commitments, pastoral care which is particularly attentive to children, who are the real victims of broken families, pastoral care which is innovative and provides a suitable preparation for the sacrament of Matrimony, rather than so many programmes which seem more of a formality than training for a lifelong commitment; Aiming to love unconditionally all families, particularly those experiencing difficulties, since no family should feel alone or excluded from the Church’s loving embrace, and the real scandal is a fear of love and of showing that love concretely.
© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2015

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