My family is my greatest treasure, teacher and trainer. They have taught me to love deeper, serve more faithfully, persevere more faithfully, and give myself more fully every day. There is no one who has pushed me to be more like Christ like my wife. There are no greater examples of faith and devotion in my life than my boys. My family is an icon of God in so many ways in my life, I am continually humbled by how deeply and truly blessed I am.
As my family challenges and supports me, I find strength to love others. As I am affirmed by my family, I find I have courage to take a stand for what is right. I don’t think I am alone in this. Study after study shows that the biggest influence on a person’s faith, values and principles come from their family.
Because of this I believe that faithful and loving families are the key to having a robust church and a just world, and this is why I am very excited about the upcoming Synod on the Family.
What makes this Synod Extraordinary?
There has been a great deal of speculation on what the Synod will be about. As an Extraordinary synod (as distinguished from an ordinary Synod), this Synod has been convened to bring the wisdom of the church to bear on an issue that impacts the WHOLE of the Church and has a degree of urgency.
This kind of extraordinary synod is somewhat rare (there have only been 2 others called, one in 1967 and another in 1985). They are called to deal with urgent matters and involve the heads of the various Eastern Catholic Churches as well as the presidents of Western bishop’s conferences. What the body is intended to do is help council the Pope as he seeks to find wisdom on an issue that is of great importance at the given time (you can read all about them in the Code of Canon law here). This extraordinary synod, will make way for an ordinary synod a year later, in 2015. The ordinary Synod will include more people and will be able to take steps toward acting on the resolutions of the extraordinary synod.
After each Synod it is typical for the pope to offer a post-synodical exhortation. This is a document that is signed by the pope, but represents the outcomes of the synodical process with the voices of the episcopal college. Post-synodical exhortations therefore are Church documents that carry a great deal of weight. This is why there has been a so much talk about this Synod.
There are few ways, outside of a full ecumenical council or an ex-cathedra decree, that Pope Francis could shake up the Church that would be more impactful and authoritative than through an extraordinary Synod.
So what will Francis and the Synod talk about?
It’s hard to know exactly, but one can find hints of what might be talked about through a Vatican survey that was circulated some months ago in preporation for the synod. According the Vatican document released on the matter there will be discussion on:
- The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium
- Marriage according to the Natural Law
- The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelisation
- Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
- On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
- The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages
- The Openness of the Married Couple to Life
- The Relationship Between the Family and the Person
(see more on this at Synod In The Modern Church: History and Hope).
What can WE do to prepare for the Synod on the Family?
I think all of these things are incredibly important things to talk about, and all involve difficulties that the Church desperately needs to find wisdom in order to address. The family is an issue that impacts us all, and so I think that it is also important that WE all address too. Here are a few ways you and I can prepare:
- Pray and advocate for Families: There are millions of families in crisis. Today I am particularly heartbroken by the flood of unaccompanied children who are being sent over our boarders by their families in order to seek a better life. As a parent I am shocked to realize how grave the conditions must be that parents are willing to risk the lives of their own children through dangerous crossings in order to remove them from the dangers at home. As we prepare let us raise up our prayers and voices for these families, and the millions of other families that are in moments of crisis around the world.
- Strengthen your family: Most of us have families of one form or another, whether they are made up of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, or simply friends and neighbors. As the Synod approaches it offers us the perfect time to love our families more intentionally. Take time to discern how God might be calling out to better love and serve those in your life.
- Open your family: We live in a world where many are increasingly lonely. There are many people who do not have the love and support of a healthy family in their daily lives. If you have been blessed with a family, consider opening your life together to others. There is great power in giving someone a place to belong.
I pray that as we move toward this Synod the Church will find the wisdom that it needs to handle this crisis of the family that we are going through. Take time to invest in preparing your own heart and lives for the work that the Church will be doing. This synod is a challenge and an invitation to us all to make the family an institution of great hope and love, and a light to the world.