This past February, Pope Francis wrote a letter to families in which he noted his desire to “come into your homes to speak about an event which will take place at the Vatican this coming October. It is the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is being convened to discuss the theme of ‘pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization’” (Letter of Pope Francis to Families, February 2, 2014).
The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution in the Church that was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965, shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. The Synod is an assembly of bishops from around the world who assist the Holy Father by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church. A Synod is called “Extraordinary” when it is convened to deal with matters which require a speedy solution and which demand the immediate attention for the good of the entire Church.
By calling an “Extraordinary” Synod, Pope Francis is recognizing the urgent need to address the pastoral challenges the Church faces when it addresses the vocation and ministry of the family, the education of children and the role of the family in the life of the Church.
Bishops and lay people, among them 14 married couples from around the world, will gather in Rome October 5 – 19 for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Much work has been done in preparation for the Synod. A preparatory document outlined the work of the Synod, provided a basic catechesis on the Gospel of the Family and requested input from the world’s bishops. A later publication contains the results of the consultation process, provides a substantive reflection on the major challenges facing the family today and outlines topics that will be discussed at the Extraordinary Synod.
Topics that will be considered: the Gospel of the Family as it relates to God’s plan including the family’s biblical and magisterial foundations; the challenges inherent in the family, such as the crisis of faith; consideration of difficult pastoral situations including separated and divorced couples, unmarried couples who live together, remarried divorcees and themes linked to openness to life.
We can expect that Pope Francis will play an active role in the work of the synod. I thought about his participation when I read the homily he gave on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross when he witnessed the marriage of 20 couples. “It is impossible to quantify the strength and depth of humanity contained in a family: mutual help, educational support, relationships developing as family members mature, the sharing of joys and difficulties. Families are the first place in which we are formed as persons and, at the same time, the ‘bricks’ for the building up of society” (Homily, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14, 2014).
Married couples can attest to the fact that the joy and happiness of their marriage day often fade when hardships and challenges occur, daily life becomes burdensome and discouragement invades their minds and hearts. Pope Francis addressed this reality in his homily: “The love of Christ can restore to spouses the joy of journeying together. This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband become ever more a man…. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult. I would like to give you some advice. It is normal for a husband and wife to argue; it’s normal. It always happens. But my advice is this: never let the day end without having first made peace. Never! A small gesture is sufficient” (Homily, Feast of Exaltation of the Cross, September 14, 2014).
The Extraordinary Synod this October will be followed by 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015. This Synod will continue the work of the Extraordinary Synod by reflecting on points discussed at the Extraordinary Synod and formulating appropriate pastoral guidelines for the pastoral care of the person and the family.
How can we support the upcoming Synods of Bishops on the Family? “May we all, then, pray together so that through these synods the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel” (Letter of Pope Francis to Families, February 2, 2014).
Appropriately, on the Feast of the Holy Family Pope Francis provided this prayer for the Synod of Bishops on the Family:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.
May the Holy Family guide and direct
the work of the Synod. Please join
me in prayer that the Extraordinary
Synod will bear fruit in supporting the family’s vocation in the Church.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.
USCCB president encourages Day of Prayer for synod
WASHINGTON (USCCB) — Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has joined Pope Francis and the office for the Synod of Bishops in encouraging a universal Day of Prayer on September 28, for the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops addressing The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization (October 5-19).
“The Extraordinary Synod on the Family is an important moment for the Church and for families,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “I welcome whole-heartedly this day of prayer for the Synod fathers and for all who will participate. As the Church turns with special attention to the family, may God’s plan for marriage and the family be a source of hope and healing for all.”
For the universal Day of Prayer on Sunday, Sept. 28, dioceses, parishes, religious communities, families and all the Catholic faithful are invited to pray for the Synod. Suggested prayers include a prayer to the Holy Family composed by Pope Francis and intercessory prayers which may be used during the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass, other liturgical settings, and in family or personal prayer, available at www.usccb.org. In addition, families and all Catholics are being encouraged to pray the Rosary during each day of the Synod.
Archbishop Kurtz is attending the Extraordinary Synod as part of a U.S. delegation of bishops including Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, and Archbishop William C. Skurla, Byzantine Metropolitan of Pittsburgh. More information about the Synod is available at www.usccb.org. A prayer card with Pope Francis’ Holy Family prayer is available for purchase from USCCB Communications at www.usccbpublishing.org.