Three weeks of prayer, discussion, revisions, and final recommendations to Pope Francis on the vocation and mission of the family today have now reached a completion. Thanks for all your prayers and support. It will be good to get home. I pray that our efforts inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit will be a contribution to the pastoral life of the family and of the Church, a family of families.
The media interest and attention has been strong. While it does not rival the coverage of our Holy Father’s historic visit to the United States last month (reported by the Wall Street Journal to have exceeded that of last year’s Super Bowl), the coverage has been constant and numerous narratives, even competing ones, have been offered.
How do I put together the fruits of the synod in these very early days? Here are some thoughts. First, last evening Pope Francis decided to release the synod text given to him for discernment. He wisely reminded delegates three weeks ago that the synod is not a parliament that issues legislation but an action of communio cum and sub Petro. This is to say that we deliberated prayerfully with Pope Francis, and ultimately he prayerfully received the text – the fruits of this act of communio. In a sense the synod is an act of a family of Jesus, bound in faith, truth, and love.
At the end of the approved document, we humbly asked Pope Francis to give the Church a document on the Family in which he might use some of our recommendations. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which captured so many directions of the 2012 Synod on Evangelization, has been a gift to the Church and to the world. How great it would be to receive a similar exhortation on the family to guide pastoral ministry now and into the future. Of course Pope Francis has many means to communicate with the faithful, and the synod delegates deeply respect his ultimate decision.
Second, much of the headlines and discussion outside the synod hall revolved around pastoral care to those who are divorced and civilly remarried. Naturally, people will be tempted to rush to these sections to see the text and the vote. These sections are very important for the pastoral care flowing from this synodal process, but please do not glide over pages of very deliberate discussion and advice on what it means to be rooted in Jesus and the tradition faithfully conveyed over the centuries. I urge you to attend to the dialogue about what it means to call forth and help to form and support families, who through their heroic actions in the very ordinary circumstances of life will inspire one another and their neighbors.
Highlighting and honoring the heroic witness of families today was a shared conviction that comes through the pages of the document in a beautiful way. Families today are not simply the object of our concern (though surely they deserve all our help) but as Pope Francis has repeated, they are called to be the subject who gives and shares – the very agents through whom God will minister to His people. I could not help but say thanks to God for my own family, who provided this witness in my life. While these insights about the role of families are not new, the emphasis on families as ministers and mentors is new. Everyone agreed that the witness of families themselves is essential, as is the need for formation and ongoing support for all families.
Third, as reported, there were different views about how the preservation of doctrine and the need for pastoral care should be balanced and work together. Even when there was disagreement about the best pastoral course to take in serving families who struggle in the short term and long term, there was unanimity that the best course must be rooted in Church teaching and must be carefully discerned. Some initial discussions focused on the role of the local and universal Church and the part that episcopal conferences might share. In these debates, the focus was on what pastoral issues are best handled at what levels. We are at the very early stages of these discussions, and we will look to Pope Francis for deeper guidance. However in all of this, the love of Jesus and the love of the family – the desire to do what is truly best in walking with those who struggle – motivated the heart of each of the delegates.
As I prepare to travel, I do so with a heart filled with gratitude and not just a little eagerness to return home! I served as the relator (secretary) for our small group of (one of 13 small groups) and began the final summary with these words: “Flowing from the tenderness of God is the mission of the family, a primary announcer of the good news both within the family and beyond.” May that good news of Jesus, for which the world yearns, be announced by families today and may this blessed synod be a great help to promote this.