Living at The Lay Centre in the heart of Rome, many of my fellow residents and I actively followed the three-week-long Synod of Bishops, held here, from 4 to 25 October, sometimes even attending Synod events.
At the conclusion of the Synod, the contributions of 270 cardinals, archbishops and other members of the Church yielded the following result: a 94-chapter document, outlining Church teaching on divorced and civilly remarried people, cohabitation, the role of women, same-sex attraction, and how to better welcome families into the Church and care for their needs.
Yet, in my opinion, there was an unwritten conclusion: that of a Church which finds, within its diversity (and not in spite of it), a serious commitment to fostering dialogue and seeking truthful insights in light of the faith.
Pope Francis addressed this point in his concluding message to Synod members. Reflecting on the Synod process, the pope said:
“We have seen, also by the richness of our diversity, that the same challenge is ever before us: that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.
And without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonizing others, we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that ‘all be saved’ (cf. 1 Tm 2:4).“
As well, it seems the final document draws heavily from St. John Paul II’s writings, specifically from his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, as regards discernment in cases of divorce and remarriage.
Statements taken from the 1981 document uphold Church teaching in relation to family issues, in particular the need for pastors to discern situations well — a theme which resonates with a passage in the Synod’s final document:
“The path of accompaniment and discernment orients these faithful to an awareness in conscience of their situation before God. … Given that there is no graduality in the law itself (Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the demands of truth and of charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church. So that this happens, the necessary conditions of humility, discretion, and love for the Church and its teaching, in a sincere search for the will of God and in the desire to reach a more perfect response to it, must be guaranteed.“
In his closing address, Pope Francis spoke of the Magisterium’s responsibility in ensuring that “every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.”
From my reading of events in Rome this past month, it seems to me that the Synod has provided a clear message to Catholics to carry on; to be witnesses to the faith, respectful of the “other” and “following the demands of truth and charity.” In dealing with others, whether we are taking care of a sick child, interacting with a difficult person at work, having a conversation with someone who espouses different beliefs, or consoling someone after the loss of a spouse, we can continue to seek to embrace, as Pope Francis said, the “goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning.”
Matthew Doeing is a student of theology and is studying at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas for a diploma in Ecumenism and Interreligious Studies. His interests are varied and include East-West religious relations, studies in mysticism, and eating gelato. He is currently living out his first year in Rome at The Lay Centre.
The opinions presented in this piece are the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinion of The Lay Centre.
(Photo taken from the website of the Holy See Press Office for the Synod of Bishops on the family.)