What a time to be alive! Pope Francis has just concluded an intense three-week meeting with his brother bishops and cardinals and the whole world is abuzz! Officially, it was called the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World. (*Sidenote: For those of you who don’t know, “Synod” literally means “to walk together.” So technically, this Synod was about the bishops of the Church walking together to discuss the problems and challenges that families face.)
It was an incredible three weeks
. Our team was in Rome during October covering the Synod for the Vatican so I would watch their daily reports, videos and articles. Some of our very own North American Bishops were able to participate, such as Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (VP of the USCCB), Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington (who played a very big role!).
The whole thing was a bit overwhelming, especially if you aren’t so crazy about Church history or Church politics. So, for those of you who fall into that category, here’s a recap from a fellow millennial.
1. Millennials need to pay attention. These issues affect us.
The topic of the Synod was the vocation and mission of the family. Chances are, most of us are going to get married one day and have a family. And now is the time to prepare for our future vocation as husbands, wives and parents! And not only that, the issues discussed at the Synod affect us now or affect people we know. Issues such as divorce, remarriage, immigration, migration, the refugee crisis, homosexuality, cohabitation, unemployment and war. The list goes on.
We need to remain attentive to what is going on in the Church around us, because before you know it, you’re going to come face to face with these issues, if you haven’t already. And if marriage isn’t your vocation, priests and religious brothers and sisters almost always deal with the people of God pastorally. In truth, this Synod affects everyone, in one way or another.
2. No changes were made to Church teaching. This was a strictly a pastoral Synod.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions of synods in general, and especially this one on the family, is that it is a big meeting with bishops and cardinals where they discuss and change Church doctrine.
This misconception makes people so fearful! People were afraid that the Church was going to change its teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried (it didn’t) or that the sanctity of marriage would be questioned (that also didn’t change). Nothing changed. Pope Francis stressed in the beginning of the Synod that this was strictly a listening synod. A synod where open discussions were encouraged and all prejudices and preconceptions were to be put aside to make room for the Holy Spirit to lead the Synod Fathers in a direction that would be for the good of the whole Church.
To cut to the chase, the whole purpose of the Synod was to have a good, open and honest discussion on the needs of the families in the Church and how to best deal with real situations that affect the real flock of Christ pastorally.
It was no easy task. The Church is universal; it’s everywhere, which means that families in different parts of the world are going to be dealing with different family issues. And another huge thing the Synod did for the Church is remind us that we are ALL the body of Christ, and the problems facing our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are important and we should be made aware of the struggles they go through so as to stand with them in solidarity. This journey, in my opinion, was a beautiful example of how the Church of Christ can walk together, with each other, in spite of our differences.
3. Things Did Get Heated. Arguments Arose. And That’s Ok.
I’m not going to lie. Things in the Synod Hall did get heated. There were discussions. There were disagreements. But all of that is ok! In fact, all of that was encouraged by our Holy Father himself. Think of a family, any healthy family. Aren’t they honest with each other? Don’t they “throw plates at each other” (to loosely quote Pope Francis). Don’t they love each other, argue with each other and listen to each other? And that’s what this Synod was! A safe place for open and free discussion.
Pope Francis truly encouraged his brother bishops to be free and he knew if there were media present, some would hold back and choose to say or not say certain things. And for something that is as special and crucial to society as the family, it simply would not do to hold things back. Pope Francis is a very wise man. He knows what he’s doing. Or, better yet, he definitely gives free reign to the Holy Spirit.
4. Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!
If there was one thing that all media outlets got right it was the Synod’s emphasis on ending exclusionary language and stressing encounter, that is, to be more welcoming to all people. In a few weeks, the Church is set to begin the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Is it a coincidence that the Jubilee of Mercy begins shortly after the Synod of Bishops? I think not! Like I said, Pope Francis is a wise, wise man. What better way to put into practice what we preach than during the Jubilee of Mercy? The Church isn’t ALL about strict rules and “don’t do this” and “you have to do that.” The Church is a Church of Love, a Church that is universal, inclusive, a Church for everyone! And as the Jubilee of Mercy takes off, Pope Francis is insistent that we extend this love, this mercy to everyone!
“The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” – Evangelii Gaudium.
We are all weak. We all fall. And it’s not easy, being a Catholic Christian in this world and dealing with the day-to-day challenges of family life. And Pope Francis is simply saying “Hey, I get that. I’m broken too. We all need Jesus. Let’s go to him together.”
At the end of the day, the Synod of Bishops on the Family emphasized that Christ is with you always, no matter your issues. And the Synod Fathers, who have their own flocks, their own people to care for, are there for you as well, ready to help you and offer their support and comfort.
5. This is Only the Beginning. Pope Francis is set to Issue an Apostolic Exhortation.
So now that the Synod of Bishops is over and done and the bishops all went home, this is it. All done. We can all go back to our normal lives with our normal problems. Right?
False. This is only the beginning. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Synod Fathers presented Pope Francis with the final Synod document, with 94 pages of recommendations for how to pastorally address the various familial issues and where they stood on certain topics.
Again, no doctrine was changed. And now, it was announced recently, Pope Francis is going to issue an Apostolic Exhortation, which is one of the ways the Pope communicates with his flock. This exhortation is where we will see where Pope Francis stands on all the issues. Meanwhile, all the Synod Fathers will be tasked with addressing the challenges their flock faces in a way that offers them the support the family has always needed and deserves.
Since the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate, he has always stressed he wants an open Church, a Church that dialogues, moves forward together and walks together in spite of all the challenges the world throws at us. And now, at the end of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, we are given a fresh opportunity to be the Church that St. Peter was tasked to form. How will we respond?
For more information on the Synod:
Salt + Light Photo/Gabriel Chow
Vivian Cabrera is a displaced Texan living in Canada. A recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, she enjoys writing about the many ups and downs (both spiritual and physical) that come with moving to a country very similar yet quite different from her own. And because God is good all the time, she spends most of her time trying not to forget how to speak Spanish and working as the Social Media Coordinator for Salt + Light. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Suggestions? Find her up on twitter (@iCabrera05
) or email her here: [email protected]