Conclusion of the Synod of Bishops
Our Holy Father Pope Francis had a number of things to say at the end of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015. First, he announced the establishment of a new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life to replace the current Pontifical Councils for the Laity and Family as well as the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Then, in his address to the Synod at its conclusion on October 24th, Pope Francis gave thanks to the Holy Spirit, the “real protagonist” of the synod, and all the organizers and participants. The address consisted of two lists: one list addressing the question, “What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?” and the other noting the challenges and demands of mercy.
In the first list, the pope spoke of how the synod was not trying to solve or settle every issue having to do with the family, “but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.” He said that the synod’s purpose was to urge everyone “to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.” The synod was an opportunity to listen to families, to “view and interpret realities,” to bear witness to the Gospel, show the Church’s vitality, and to “defend and spread the freedom of the children of God.”
In the second list, Pope Francis spoke of the open dialogue that the synod fathers had, and about the inculturation of the Gospel in different places throughout the world. The challenges he addressed were those of relativism and demonizing others, and the pope observed that, “the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness.” The love of God precedes us always and his mercy is open to all, he said. The Holy Father quoted three of his predecessors (Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI) on God’s mercy and love in Christ. Finally, the pope enjoined the synod fathers “to return to our true ‘journeying together’ in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy!”
On Sunday October 25th, Pope Francis gave the homily at the Mass which brought the Synod to an official close. He reflected with particular care on the connection between the Gospel, the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus, and the first reading from Jeremiah, where the Lord is proclaimed as saving his people Israel. The pope said, “As the people of Israel were freed thanks to God’s fatherhood, so too Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion.”
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, Pope Francis said, but is still ready to stop to heal the broken: “Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him.” Jesus affirms the blind man’s faith, and the Holy Father said, “He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.”
Two expressions stood out to the pope from the Gospel: “Take heart!” and “Rise!” which the disciples use to call Bartimaeus over to the Lord. These are both simply repetitions of Jesus’ own way of addressing people that he meets. Pope Francis said, “When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy.” The Church today is called to repeat Jesus’ stance before the suffering.
Pope Francis noted two particular temptations that followers of Christ have; temptations that are present even in the disciples who were walking with Jesus. One is to keep walking past those who are suffering. “None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem.” The pope said that this is a danger for believers who see so many problems and do not want to be “bothered” with them. He called this a “spiritual illusion,” and said that by walking on, “We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about [Jesus] and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded.” Instead, faith must “root itself in the life of people.” The second temptation is what the pope called a “scheduled faith,” one that will walk with Jesus according to its own plans and lists. This attitude excludes the unexpected and those on the fringes who we did not plan to encounter, while Jesus wants to include them.
In conclusion, the Holy Father reflected on Bartimaeus’s joining with the disciples on the journey and compared him to the Synod Fathers who “have walked together.” He prayed that the Lord would “turn to us with his healing and saving gaze,” and said, “let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.”