Pope Francis During Extraordinary Synod of Bishops; Advent wreath.
The Synod on the Family, called by Pope Francis to address: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world,” has come to a close. There have been many voices heard, many agendas laid bare, and much confusion regarding what all of this may mean. We Catholics should be grateful and proud that Christ’s Church alone has preserved God’s own divinely-willed emphasis for marriage and the family. Is Francis out to change that? By some reports, one would think so. We shall soon find out, as the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has affirmed rumors that Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the Synod will be released before too long. As a trusting—perhaps adolescent—son of Holy Mother Church, I do believe that we shall be consoled in what we will read in those pages.
Notwithstanding, we have all been shocked by the headlines: present at the Synod were cunning clerics, and trustless theologians, who desire to alter the Church’s theology of marriage as an indissoluble, and open-to-life, union between one man and one woman. Did they exploit Francis’ openness in order to push their own agendas? There were secret meetings, and outright defiance and betrayal, attempts to challenge Francis’ seemingly tolerant nature.
Despite the Pope’s repeated insistence that the Church must safeguard God’s plan for man and woman, God’s own desire for the family, he wanted to hear from all people of good will. He trusts in the Truth. It is a central principle of Ignatius’ view of the human person that the Holy Spirit’s sovereign will can be discovered through discussion and prayerful deliberation. That is why Pope Francis was able to assert in his final speech to the synod that these meetings were:
…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 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.
What a great image! Christian Newness! Saint Augustine knew that the true Faith is always “ever ancient,” as it finds its roots in creation, as well as “ever new,” as there is no human predicament, or worldly situation that can outrun the Faith, and leave Jesus speechless. The Catholic Church is divinely founded, ordered, and even sustained, here and now. She cannot err when human salvation is at stake. Here, we have to trust in the “newness” of each authentic development of the ancient faith; here we have to trust in the “newness” of every Holy Father’s personality and way of proceeding.
Yet, the ever-perspicacious Dr. Janet Smith has likened the current situation to the sluice gates opened by Pope Paul VI’s call for a study of the Church’s teaching against artificial birth control. With the preparation and final release of Humanae Vitae, unforeseen confusion and unfortunate divisions arose, causing a virtual schism in the Body of Christ that remains unhealed. Perhaps, Francis is naïve. Perhaps, his style is too sloppy, and his actions are not executed carefully enough. Perhaps, Francis has trusted that bedrock principle of Ignatian spirituality—namely, that the Holy Spirit can be trusted to emerge in one’s experience, and in the shared conversation of Christians of good will. Perhaps, Francis is so untrusting of Roman curial proceedings, he has proclaimed a single judgment of nullity is sufficient, doing away with the “court of second instance,” which traditionally reviewed very carefully the first decision.
What do we do? Oremus. We pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide Francis’ goodness, and illuminate him to see what is at stake. We pray that the Holy Spirit guides every thought and word of the apostolic exhortation. I pray Pope Francis is content that he has now heard all the voices, and realizes, more convincingly, that he is the one who must continue to lead Christ’s Church in her other-worldly view of marriage. For myself, I have weddings on three consecutive weekends this month, and I shall preach on the Church’s prayer during that Mass:
by whom woman is joined to man
and the companionship they had in the beginning
is endowed with the one blessing
not forfeited by original sin
nor washed away by the flood.
I trust that what neither original sin nor the flood could do to the Church’s blessing of true marriage, no modern movement or destructive dissenter will be able to accomplish either.
Advent is fast approaching. What used to be a penitential time in the Church’s year, has given way mainly to consumerism. Possibly, we could use Advent to pray for the Church, and for her theology of marriage. Let us have our Masses offered for the family, let us try to understand how the synod, and the Pope’s exhortation may play out in the upcoming Year of Mercy (beginning December 8, 2015). As we should be doing anyway, we could fast on Fridays, or use that day for some special act of charity. We could join the Apostleship of Prayer and unite our prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions.
What we cannot do is get swept away by the secular hysteria all around us. We cannot ourselves become “trolls,” and lash out at our supposed enemies, only to use them to release our own petty frustrations. We cannot believe the world’s promise that the Catholic Church will one day change her doctrine on family and marriage. It will not happen! It cannot happen! But we are all fallen creatures prone to become alarmed at “wars and the rumors of wars” (Mt 24:6), but in Christ we must stand confident in his already-won Victory. The King has already descended into this enemy land, and in him we are all secure.