October 24, 2014

Synod meets its objective, sets agenda for yearlong consultation and discussion

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Most Rev. Joseph W. Tobin, CSs.R.Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper or in the blogs. The Catholic bishops who met in Rome this month for an Extraordinary Synod did not “reject welcome to gays” as pronounced by a USA Today headline on the synod’s closing day. Let me say that again: the bishops did no such thing. All are welcome in the one family of God.

The objective of this “extraordinary” synod was to set the agenda for a yearlong process of prayerful discernment in preparation for the “ordinary” synod of bishops a year from now. This year’s synod was charged with responsibility for exploring the theme, “The Pastoral Challenges Facing the Family in the Light of Evangelization.” Two concepts are crucial for a proper understanding of this mission: First, pastoral challenges facing the family, and second, evangelization.

During the past two months in my column, I have been writing about the first concept—the family and the “lights and shadows” experienced today. The family has always had to deal with moments of joy and sorrow, hardship and success, tragedy and triumph.

Today is no different, but we acknowledge special pressures on married couples and families who strive to live in ways that are faithful to sacred Scripture and the teaching of our Church in today’s world. That is why Pope Francis has asked all of us to spend a significant amount of time during the coming year in paying prayerful attention to the needs of families.

Media reports on the synod have focused on a couple of “hot-button issues,” especially the relationship of the divorced and remarried with the Church, and the Church’s position on homosexuality.

As is predictable, the news media loves to divide people into opposing camps and then fuel the tensions that exist among those with different points of view. Pope Francis acknowledged this polarizing tendency in his remarks last week at the close of the Synod.

He referred to the “temptations” of both rigid hard-liners, who insist on what they regard as the “letter of the law,” and progressive “do-gooders” who in the name of a “deceptive mercy” want to bind wounds without first curing or healing them. According to the Holy Father, both temptations lead away from the authentic mercy of Jesus, who reached out to everyone and who came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. (Mt. 5:17)

The second concept that deserves our consideration is evangelization. This is the framework for the synod’s discussions. We all know that families face many challenges today. Given these realities, how is the Church called to preach the Gospel, share the joy of faith in Jesus Christ, show mercy and compassion, instruct and heal—while refusing to judge people whose beliefs, opinions, and ways of living may be contrary to what we firmly believe?

Pope Francis’ celebrated response to a journalist’s question regarding homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?” did not represent a shift in the Church’s teaching. It was a pastor’s response to the challenge of reaching out to all those entrusted to his care.

In his closing remarks at the synod’s end, Pope Francis offered some reflections on his role as pope, which he sees as guaranteeing the unity of the Church, reminding the faithful of their duty to follow Christ’s Gospel, reminding pastors to nourish their flock, and seeking “to welcome—with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears—the lost sheep.” Then the Holy Father corrected himself. “Welcome” can imply a passive waiting for others to come; the pope’s responsibility as a good pastor is “to go out and find them.”

This attitude is crucial in understanding the Extraordinary Synod. We should resist all temptations to be either too rigid or too lax, but we must not sit and wait for people to come to us. As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, we should go out to today’s families, bringing them the joy of the Gospel. As Pope Francis teaches us, “without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life,” we must reach out to everyone, especially all who are hurting in any way.

No one is ever rejected by Christ or his Church. All are sought after and welcomed by the Church that Pope Francis said has “the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect!”

As Pope Francis insists, the Church is our mother. She is not afraid to reach out to all her children regardless of who they are or what they have done. Indeed, the Church is most true to herself when she becomes involved with her children wherever they are. When they have fallen, the pope teaches, she feels obligated to lift them up and encourage them to take up the journey again.

No one is rejected. All are welcome. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we spend the coming year searching for “concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront today.” May God bless the Family.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Joseph W. Tobin, CSs.R.
Archbishop of Indianapolis

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