In the days since the Synod on the Family ended, I have had some people tell me they are confused or worried about the results of the gathering. Many of them have listened to the secular media reports that openly advocate for the Church to change her teaching on marriage and human sexuality, but they did not read the actual documents.
Outside of the media spotlight, the synod heard beautiful testimonies from couples and bishops around the world who had experienced the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage. But since those stories didn’t fit the media narrative, they didn’t make it into the newspapers or nightly newscasts.
The joy of the Gospel of Marriage is alive! This was especially clear in Pope Francis’ remarks at the conclusion of the synod. During the synod, he said, the testimonies provided moments of “consolation and grace and comfort.” The couples who spoke shared “the beauty and the joy of their married life,” and they bore witness to a journey “where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations.”
The media never reported on the strong witness given to marriage and the stories of the joy that comes from living out of the Church’s teaching.
Still, the tone and content of some of the discussions worried some people.
The great Catholic writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton once wrote in his book “The Everlasting Man:” “Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
Jesus knew the way out of the grave, and he assured St. Peter the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against” the Church (Mt 16:18). We live in particularly challenging times where secularism is rampant, but that makes it the perfect time to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s promise to St. Peter. It is the perfect time to speak the truth of the Gospel with joy and to urge people to encounter Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis noted this, too, in his opening address to the synod. “I ask you to speak with frankness and listen with humility,” he told the synod fathers. “Do so with tranquility and peace, for the synod always takes cum Petro et sub Petro—with Peter and under Peter—and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee for all and the safeguard of the faith.”
And at the closing he declared, “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.’ And this always (was the goal)—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, the openness to life.”
Pope Francis also addressed the way the discussions unfolded in his closing remarks. The synod, he said, was marked by moments of “profound consolation” and moments of “desolation, of tensions and temptation.”
For “traditionalists” and intellectuals, the Holy Father said the temptation was to become consumed with the letter of the law, while “progressives and liberals” risked buying into a “deceptive mercy” that binds wounds without “first curing and treating them.” He also noted the synod fathers face the temptation to “neglect the ‘depositum fidei’(deposit of faith), not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters (of it).”
These are real problems that have to be addressed, but it seems to me that an even greater temptation exists for the faithful: doubting the Holy Spirit and Christ’s promise to St. Peter. Pope Francis did not miss this either, citing the tendency of commentators and others to doubt the Holy Spirit, “the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church.”
“The Holy Spirit,” he reminded the synod fathers, “has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.”
The discussions of the synod over Communion for the divorced and remarried were certainly vigorous and took the spotlight off of the joy of the Gospel of Marriage and the struggles of families. On his flight back from the Holy Land last May, Pope Francis told journalists that the point of the synod was much broader than the lightning rod issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried, it will be about “both the rich reality of the family and the problems faced by families,” he said.
During the coming year, I ask you to pray that the joys of family life in light of the teaching of the Church are made known to the world, and the struggles of modern families are healed with authentic mercy, a mercy that conveys the truth with love.
Instead of being troubled by the intense debate, I urge you to remember St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians, who were experiencing divisions within their own community and struggling with understanding how their various gifts fit into the life of the Church.
St. Paul spoke to the Corinthians about a “more excellent way,” the way of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7-8). Our love for Christ and his Church is what should carry us through trying times. We must love and trust Christ even in the challenges of our times.