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Synod is a beginning not a final word

VATICAN (SE): A huge splash of green and scarlet welcomed the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on Family Life at St. Peter’s Basilica on October 4.

Pope Francis set the tone of the deliberations for the coming 21 days by reminding the fathers that the theme of the synod, The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world, is about solitude, love between man and woman and the family.

The pope lamented that he sees people becoming less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love and he spoke of what he called the paradox of a luxury-oriented globalised world that breeds a lessening of warmth in homes and families.

He said that he believes that the challenge of marriage and family life is to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness, as well as a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.

“For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia,” Pope Francis said. “But a dream without which his creatures are doomed to solitude.”

He then spoke of the Church’s mission and duty of care towards couples and families that are hurting, saying, “(It is) her duty to seek and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy.”

On October 5, the first day of formal meetings, Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga described the synod as a protected space where the Church can experience the action of the Holy Spirit.

He called it a place not for mourning and lamentation, but one that seeks to rejoice and help families to find perfection.

Pope Francis then encouraged the synod fathers to be humble and empty themselves of their own conventions and prejudices.

He then reminded them that the synod is not a parliament where in order to reach a consensus people resort to negotiation and make pacts and compromises.

The general rapporteur of the synod, Peter Cardinal Erdo, introduced the working document (instrumentum laboris), which he described as outlining some challenges to family life in the world today.

He said that they are characterised by a flight from institutions, which in turn weakens all institutions, as people learn to mistrust them, which leaves society prone to individualism and subjectivism.

This tends to result in numerous minutia in state legislation and an increased stranglehold on information flow, as people can no longer be trusted to obey the law through their moral fortitude

He added that one of the primary challenges is economic, as so many people cannot afford to marry and on top of that, millions of families are torn apart by war and migration in search of work.

Cardinal Erdo then mentioned the hot topic of the western media—divorce and remarriage. 

He said that the synod would be called to examine more carefully the idea of offering a penitential path to such couples, a path that would lead to their receiving absolution and having access to the Eucharist, albeit gradually.

He then drew the ire of some saying that between good and evil there is no gradation, noting that even though a second marriage may have many positive aspects it cannot be described as good.

The working document was criticised widely during the first two days of discussion. Archbishop Charles Chaput summarised this mood saying that it engenders a sense of hopelessness, as it does not inspire any Christian hope.

He described the work of the synod as showing confidence in the word of God and showing that the transformative grace of God can enable and inspire people to actually live out what the Church teaches.

He added that the heroism of the abandoned spouse, who lives out their marriage vows in solitude, should also be acknowledged.

Although a difficult task, Vatican Radio divided the first 72 interventions at the synod into two categories—the philosophical approach which begins with scripture and doctrine to formulate solutions to perceived problems of a threatened Catholic belief—or beginning with the reality of society today and asking how the scriptures and doctrine can be relevant to the modern world.

Vatican Radio said the second category pointed out that the challenge is not to live in fear of a godless culture, but rather learn to engage with it, in order to offer the good news of the gospel to those searching for meaning in their lives.

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher called the synod just one piece of the puzzle, rather than the final word, as some have suggested it is.

The language of the synod was also discussed widely, with warnings against exclusive language and a call for compelling language that can inspire people to believe that the challenges God gives us are indeed possible to fulfill.

This is the basis on which the mission of the family in the contemporary world is built and Andre Cardinal Vingt-Trois pointed to a positive note saying that the fact that the pope had called two synods to reflect on this is in itself a sign that this mission has indeed borne much fruit.


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