October 16, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Themes from the Synod on the Family that deserve our reflection

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

The “Instrumentum Laboris” (working paper) for the Synod on the Family proposes many important themes that deserve our reflection as we think about “the mission of the family” today. Because it’s not possible to discuss all of these in a single column, I’d like to highlight several themes that caught my attention as I was reading the synod document.

The first theme that struck me concerns tenderness in the family as a sign of the tenderness of God (“Instrumentum Laboris,” #70). Pope Francis invites everyone to reflect on his words: “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God” (Homily for Midnight Mass on the Solemnity of Christmas, 2014).

Considering all the challenges facing families today, it’s easy to overlook the importance of opening our hearts with compassion and love to those who are closest to us. God does not approach his people in an angry or judgmental way regardless of our sins. Our dealings with family members—especially those who are in any trouble—should reflect this same divine tenderness.

The second theme that caught my attention is the need for forgiveness that exists in contemporary families. As the working paper says, “In family relations, the need of reconciliation is practically a daily occurrence for various reasons. Misunderstandings due to the relationships within one’s family, friction because of different ingrained habits, diverse approaches to bringing up the children, anxiety over economic difficulties and tensions arising from a loss of work are just a few of the reasons which presently create conflict. Resolving these situations requires a continual willingness to understand others and forgive each other. The arduous art of restoring calm to relationships calls for not only the support of grace but also the willingness to seek outside help” (#105).

Have you ever found yourself in a family situation that called for “the arduous art of restoring calm”? Most of us know what restoring calm requires—and how difficult it can be to achieve successfully. That’s why it is so important for us to “be there” for each other, and to trust that God’s grace can help us overcome the most overwhelming family difficulties.

The third theme I wish to highlight from the synod’s working paper is “the great river of mercy.” We find forgiveness in the loving arms of God the Father who, with the Son and Holy Spirit, is the source of all love and mercy. Indeed, “from the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends ” (#108).

This inexhaustible supply of forgiveness is what allows us to hope that the brokenness that exists in so many marriages and families today can be healed. No sin is so grievous that it cannot be forgiven by God. No wound is so serious that the power of God’s mercy can’t heal it. The great river of God’s mercy is wide and deep. It will never run dry!

The final theme that has captured my attention in the Synod on the Family’s working paper is especially powerful: God never abandons anyone. It is possible for us to turn away from God, but our faith insists that no matter what we say or do, God will never turn away from us. He always stands before us, revealing to us “the face of a God who never abandons anyone and is always ready to restore strength and hope” (#113).

As we reflect on the great gift of family life, the primary unit of both Church and society, it’s important to keep in mind these fundamental themes: A tender and merciful God offers us strength, hope and the healing power of his grace. God will never abandon us, but will always extend to us his unconditional love.

Let’s open our hearts to receive the great river of God’s mercy. Let’s love, forgive and support one another with the tenderness of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who searches out all the lost sheep and brings us home, restoring calm to our relationships and bringing peace to our troubled families. †

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