Next month, Pope Francis will open the Synod on the Family. As he did last year, he will call together bishops from around the world to address the challenges of family life in the modern world. And considering all the questions surrounding the previous synod, you can be sure that this gathering will attract just as much attention, if not more.
Why is the pope spending so much time talking about marriage and family? Why not focus on evangelization or the Eucharist instead? One of the most significant reasons is that he is concerned with the way rapid changes in family life have affected the Church and the world. He wants to make sure the Church is serving the pastoral needs present in marriages and families today.
As we can tell from his homilies and his very public interviews, Pope Francis wants to address a number of challenging issues. He wants to look at the best way to help those divorced Catholics who are civilly remarried and are not able to receive the sacraments. He wants to address the growing acceptance of gay marriage. And he wants to find pastoral answers to help unmarried couples who are living together. But over all these issues, the Holy Father wants to find the best way for us to be a welcoming, merciful Church while we continue to follow the teachings of the Lord.
The tensions in the Church over these kinds of issues are real. Those who focus on mercy also want to be faithful to the doctrines of the faith. And those who emphasize faithfulness to doctrine also want the Church to be a house of mercy.
This is precisely why the process of the synod is so critical to Pope Francis. He wants everyone present to talk about these difficult and complex issues openly and freely so that those who hold differing viewpoints can be listened to. He wants everyone to speak his or her mind without fear of rejection or condemnation. He believes this is the only way to draw everyone closer together and closer to understanding God’s will. This is what he meant when he asked everyone to gather in a spirit of parrhesia—a spirit of open, candid conversation.
A Listening Family. I have to say, I truly admire this emphasis. Francis could have chosen to make all the decisions by himself or with just a small group. He could have chosen to silence all the opposition or hold the synod in closed quarters. But instead, he has opened up the entire process and given the press unprecedented access.
The pope’s emphasis on process has also had a significant impact on the way I approach people who hold different views from mine, including in my own family. We have learned how to listen more carefully and respectfully, and it has helped deepen our relationships.
So as this year’s Synod on the Family gets under way, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guide the meetings. Let’s also look at our own relationships. Let’s all try to be better listeners through constructive dialogue.
Joe Difato, Publisher | Email the Publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org