An Extraordinary Assembly: Synod on the Family
(Originally posted October 5, 2014)
“May the Wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church, and on all humanity. Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope” Pope Francis (Prayer Vigil 10/4/14)
Today, is the opening of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization”. What a beautiful opportunity to affirm both our commitment to our shared tradition, and to those memories still yet to be made in the joys and challenges that lie ahead. It is through a “living Gospel…as testified in the Scriptures, preserved through the example of the martyrs, and witness of ordinary believers” that we best understand our memory and identity as a people called to be church. And yet, this same commitment invites us to dynamically respond to God’s grace in present and future situations which continue to shape and form us as followers of Christ.
Here, we are acknowledging the relationship of the memory of the believing community with that of doctrine, the preserved expressions of faith, and that of the authority of office. Understood in this way, the community of faith is to be foremost in service to the truth of the gospel of Jesus. The doctrine then is to be reflective of the community in its various historical contexts, and the authority of office in service to all of these. It is, as Gaillardetz observes, “ not a monarchy or a democracy but a spiritual communion of persons called to submit themselves to hear God’s word and discern God’s will in the concrete circumstances of community” 
So then we come to the situations that have prompted this particular synod on the family, said to be seeking pastoral solutions in light of the Gospel. Specifically, the issues that the Synod is expected to address are those of the eligibility of divorced Catholics to receive communion, scandals of abuse, same sex marriages, contraception, and cohabitation. As Pope Francis notes, there is a “special need for mercy in the church today” and to listen attentively and “discuss sincerely” with those faithful who have become “frustrated and marginalized”. Here, in reflecting on Vatican II, we glimpse the special role of the bishop within the community as teacher and judge of the faith, guiding us in the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, in light of Lumen Gentium, as laity we see our responsibility, in patience and love “to express our opinion on matters which concern the good of the church”.