Pope Francis’ Address to the Synod Fathers

Pope Francis’ Address to the Synod Fathers October 22, 2014

Here, courtesy of Zenit, is the full text of Pope Francis’ concluding address at the Synod on the Family, for which the bishops’ standing ovation was well deserved.  In keeping with the Holy Father’s own warnings, I will let the brilliance of his address speak for itself and not risk turning into my own weapon with excessive commentary – at least for now – except to concur with Fr. Thomas Rosica, “It’s worth pausing at every single word.”

Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.

From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.

I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!

I can happily say that with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality we have truly lived the experience of Synod, a path of solidarity, a journey together.

And it has been a journey and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say enough; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called today traditionalists and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the do-gooders, of the fearful, and also of the so-called progressives and liberals.

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

– The temptation to neglect the depositum fidei [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them byzantinisms, I think, these things.

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard with joy and appreciation speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the supreme law, the good of souls (cf. Can. 1752). And this always we have said it here, in the Hall 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 (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on peoples wound; who doesnt see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of Gods mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you, [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock to nourish the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears, the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6) and it is through us, Pope Benedict continues, that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).

So, the Church is Christ’s, she is His bride and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant: the servant of the servants of God; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being by the will of Christ Himself the supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful (Can. 749) and despite enjoying supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the Synodal Relatio which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as lineamenta [guidelines].

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!

[Translation by Vatican Radio]


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  • I feel as though I am in the presence of the Holy Spirit blowing fresh wind on the face of the earth and Church, the Spirit that flew in the window of the Church when Pope John XXIII opened it to begin Vatican Council II. In fact, It feels like Vatican Council III has begun…this is the first part, from the laity, the people in the pews, on up. Thank you, Pope Francis, for helping us not to be afraid of the difficult and sometimes confusing conversations and headlines. I can’t wait to see the next year unfold…

    Thank you Vox Nova for sending us these notices!

    • Julia Smucker

      I tend to think talk of “Vatican III”, particularly with the watershed of Vatican II in mind, is premature: era-defining councils, by definition, can only happen once in an era, so to expect to enter into a new chapter of church history on the level of Vatican II while that event remains in living memory would, I think, be expecting too much. That said, I do see what you mean about getting a similar feel from observing the synod, and it does indeed feel like a taste of the same kind of excitement in wondering what they will do. And of course you are right that it’s the same Spirit that moves.

      • Flareon

        It doesn’t have to be era-defining to be ecumenical council. Why are we chained to VII until “living memory” has faded? Look at council dates:

        The first four were: 325, 381, 431, 451

        Then, yes, about once a century ending with a gap over 250 years until you get to the High Middle Ages when nine through fifteen were: 1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, 1245, 1274, 1311

        And the gap between Constance and Florence, and Fifth Lateran and Trent…were both less than thirty years.

        The big gap idea exemplified by the Dark Ages and by Trent/Vatican I…seems more an anomaly than a rule. Councils in history have tended to cluster.

        • Julia Smucker

          It has nothing to do with being “chained” or barred from anything meaningful happening. It has everything to do with a broad perspective on history. Your first sentence actually makes my point: all ecumenical councils are significant, yet only some of them can become the namesakes of periods of church history. Councils such as Lateran V and Vatican I, while not to be dismissed, were not era-defining in the same way that others such as Trent and Vatican II were.

          There are obvious reasons that church councils, including some really crucial ones, were clustered historically pretty closely together in the early centuries as the Church was working through some foundational belief and identity questions in its relative youth. Of course we still have big questions to work through in every age and must continue to do so. My point is just that it would be naïve to expect an event on exactly the same historical scale as Vatican II when we’re still far from finished unpacking and living out all of its implications.

        • Quin

          I think many people are far from agreeing that Vatican II has the historical importance of Trent, on the other hand. Maybe in 50 years it will just be seen as a terrible “bump on the road” like the 10th century/pornocracy that seemed to turn the world upside down at the time, but from which there was ultimately a great retreat. I wouldn’t judge history so soon, Julia. Some of us consider Vatican I to be MUCH more era-defining than Vatican II.

          • Julia Smucker

            Some prefer Vatican I to Vatican II, yes. But I’m not talking about preference. I’m talking about how historically, positive or negative value judgments aside, Vatican II is broadly seen as a transition point from what is quite commonly known as the Tridentine era into what we now know as the Vatican II era. Actually, that whole language of “the same church in a different era”, as has occurred several times through church history, is helpful for maintaining a sense of continuity without downplaying the significance of the event. Considering history on the whole can be a good way of keeping ourselves in perspective.

        • when we’re still far from finished unpacking and living out all of its implications.

          Ah, come on, Ms. Smucker, you just DON’T WANT the “implications” of Vatican II to be “unpacked.”

          • Julia Smucker

            You are mistaken.

            Presuming to know what another person does and does not want is typically not the best approach to dialogue.

        • Sorry, Ms. Smucker, but anyone who thinks that Douthat understands the Catholic “tradition,” particularly as it relates to the development of its doctrines, has no standing with me as an “un-packer” of the Second Vatican Council. I have closely read everything you’ve written during the past year, and I have never been able to detect any sympathy whatsoever with “liberals” and much sympathy with “conservatives.” Meaning no disrespect, I would suggest to you that you should reflect that this is the usual un-critical stance of a convert to Protestantism who cannot take the Catholic Faith with the grain of salt and the good humour of a “cradle Catholic.”

          • Julia Smucker

            Really, all I said was that Douthat is articulating a correct understanding of papal infallibility and its limits, which I’ve had occasion to explain a few times as the token Catholic in my family and other circles (and having once entertained some of the common misconceptions myself). I don’t agree with where he goes from there in this case, but it appears from what you’ve been saying that your understanding of Pope Francis’ aims is closer to Douthat’s than mine is; you are merely differing in your value judgments thereof.

            Beyond this, given that you’ve long since decided what to think of everything I write, there’s no point in defending it to you.

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