As the 2nd year of the Synod on the Family has gotten underway we are reminded of both the joys and challenges of the family and the need to be open to the Holy Spirit. While Pope Francis cautions not to over politicize the Synod gathering, he also emphasized that the Church must seek out those in need of mercy to “welcome, accompany and not become a roadblock but a bridge”.
An Extraordinary Assembly: Synod on the Family 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 the Synod is to look at the reaffirming Church teaching on marriage and the family with attention to 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”. 
Remarkably, as attested by the synod questionnaire, the communities themselves were consulted somewhat directly on their understandings of and resonance with matters of faith. (http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/vatican-asks-parish-level-input-synod-document) According to the latest Catholic News Service, the synod of 250 participants will consist of bishops, cardinals,leaders of Vatican congregations and councils, priests, and 14 married couples from around the world. However, as the article also notes, there is a lot of room for how these opinions are considered, with only 26 papally appointed voting members. Still, this upcoming 2015 synod is a time to “assess the reception of the church’s teaching” as “sensus fidei” and then seek how best to address these controversial pastoral issues.
While this synod is unprecedented in its approach, we must consider that the church has always been called upon to respond to the historical circumstances and interests of its time. Likewise, we need look no further than to the additional voices of theologians, historians and biblical scholars, who have continued to shed light on the issues of the day. Their fluency with the texts, traditions and practices of the church have been essential in appraising the exercise of church teaching as lived experience. They provide a unique perspective of taking a particular teaching, and understanding how well it has been ‘understood, received, and transformed into something new’. This is the reality of a living faith that is dynamically responsive to the unparalleled love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness of God. To understand our faith in this way, demands that we listen to the experiences of faith of a people past, give voice to the present and engage the challenges of the future with our hearts, minds and souls.
 Richard Gaillardetz Ecclesiology for a Global Church: A People Called and Sent. (New York, NY. Orbis Books. 2008), p. 211. Richard Gaillardetz, By What Authority?: Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful. (Collegeville, MN. Liturgical Press. 2003) p. 62.  ibid., p. 59  http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1402654.htm  http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1403738.htm  ibid., p.78;  Ecclesiology, p.226