This morning saw the opening of the Ordinary Synod on the Family, entitled “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the contemporary world.” The first General Congregation consisted of an opening address by Pope Francis, an overview of the journey traversed so far by Card. Baldisseri and an introduction by Card. Erdő.
Pope Francis spoke briefly and after calling for parrhesia (speaking boldly), frankness and a bearing in mind of the supreme law being the salvation of souls (for which he referenced Can. 1752), he proceeded to spell out what a synod is (and is not):1
“I would like to remind you that the Synod is not a conference or a “parlor”, it is not a parliament or a senate, where one comes to an agreement. The Synod, instead, is an ecclesial expression, which is that it is the Church walking together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church who questions herself about her own fidelity to the deposit of faith, which for her is not a museum to look at or even just to protect, instead it is a living source from which the Church quenches her thirst so as to quench the thirst of and illuminate the deposit of life.Francis then proceeds to elaborate on these three prerequisites for receiving the Holy Spirit:
The Synod necessarily moves within the bosom of the Church and in the Holy People of God to which we belong as pastors, that is servants.
The Synod is also a protected space where the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit. In the Synod the Spirit speaks through the language of all the people who let themselves be led by the God who always surprises, by the God who reveals to the little ones what he hides from the wise and the intelligent, by the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man and not vice versa, by the God who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost sheep, by the God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.
Let us recall, however, that the Synod may be a space of the Holy Spirit only if we, its participants, put on vestments of apostolic courage, evangelical humility and trusting prayer.”
“Apostolic courage that doesn’t allow itself to be scared either in the face of the temptations of the world that tend to extinguish the light of the truth in the hearts of men, replacing it with small and temporary lights, or when faced with hearts turned to stone that - in spite of good intentions - drive people away from God. “Apostolic courage that brings life and that does not turn our Christian life into a museum of memories” (Homily at Santa Marta, 28 April 2015).To conclude, Pope Francis returns to contrast the workings of parliaments with what the Synod is called to:
Gospel humility that knows how to empty itself of its own conventions and prejudices, to listen to his brother Bishops and be filled with God. Humility that leads to not pointing a finger at others to judge them, but to offer them a hand to help lift them up without ever feeling superior to them.
Trusting prayer is performed by the heart when it opens to God, when all of our moods are silenced to listen to the gentle voice of God that speaks in silence. Without listening to God all our words will only be “words” that do not sate and that do not serve. Without letting ourselves be guided by the Spirit, all our decisions will only be “decorations” that instead of exalting the Gospel cover it and hide it.”
“As I said, the Synod is not a parliament, where it is necessary to negotiate, to bargain or to compromise, so as to reach consensus or a common agreement. Instead, the only method of the Synod is to open up to the Holy Spirit, with apostolic courage, with evangelical humility and trusting prayer; so that it may be Him who guides us, who enlightens us and who makes us put before our eyes not our personal opinions, but faith in God, fidelity to the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the salus animarum [salvation of souls].”Cardinal Baldisseri then presented an extensive review of the synodal way that has been followed so far - including an overview of last year’s Extraordinary Synod and the work carried out by the Church worldwide during this past year in preparation for the present Synod. Cardinal Baldisseri also presented the methodology that will be followed during this year’s Synod.
Next, Cardinal Erdő presented an overview of the instrumentum laboris published in June that will be the basis for the Synod’s work over the next three weeks (each week focusing on one of its three parts).
1 In this post and in all that will follow about the Synod, I will strive to share information as soon as possible, which means that many of the English translations will be my, rough ones. If the link I provide to the source is not in English, please, assume that the translation is mine, with all the caveats that that carries.