Opening Addresses for the Synod
Address at the Prayer Vigil for the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
October 4, 2015
Pope Francis, at the prayer vigil before the opening of the synod on the family, began in this way: “Dear Families, Good evening! What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness? Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome?” He reflected on these questions because of the temptation to turn away when life is difficult. “What is the point?” people may ask themselves. He asked the faithful instead to look at the Prophet Elijah.
Elijah was afraid and tried to run away. God pursued him to a cave and His word came to the prophet not in a flashy, showy way, such as an earthquake, great wind or fire, but rather in a “still, small voice.” The pope emphasized, “God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear the gentle breeze – that still, small voice. It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe…”
The pope’s prayer, as he looked toward the synod, was that it show how “rich and humanly fulfilling” the experience of marriage and family are. He hoped they would focus on “all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience.” He asked that it embrace those in vulnerable situations and in hardship, reminding every family that “the Gospel is always ‘good news’.”
The pope turned then to what the family brings to society. He said, “Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world.” He noted that Jesus himself entered the world and spent his first thirty years in a family that was, “like any number of others.”
The pope held up the example of Blessed Charles de Foucauld who demonstrated devotion to the Holy Family. “Attracted by the life of a hermit, he came to understand that we do not grow in the love of God by avoiding the entanglement of human relations. For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbour, we are lifted up to God.” Like Blessed Charles, the Holy Father said we must contemplate the daily hidden life of the family of Nazareth, a family rooted in love, patience, respect, humility and service.
“The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions,” the pope said. Children receive their roots in the family from previous generations. It is also the place where one may discern God’s will for their life and learn to trust Him and embrace their own mission. The family is characterized by gratuitousness, loving presence, solidarity, acceptance and forgiveness.
Returning to the Synod, Pope Francis said that the gathering can learn from the family, rather than just speak about it, and in this was the Church can learn how to embody each of the family’s members and its place:
Mother: who gives and nourishes life, “accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength,” pairing compassion and justice.
Father: who is “a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience”
Child: who is brother or sister to the others, and recognizes that all of them are a gift, no matter what, and
Home: an “open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members.” A place for all who seek healing can come and be given peace.
The Church will “light up the darkness” and lead all persons to God, “precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.”
Homily at the Opening Mass of the General Assembly of the Synod on the Family
October 4, 2015
“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12). Pope Francis began his homily for the opening Mass of the Synod on the Family with this Scripture passage, and noted that the readings for this Sunday perfectly coincide with the moment. He reflected on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family.
The first reading was from Genesis: the creation of man and woman. The pope reflected on Adam’s loneliness and said that, “The drama of solitude is experienced by countless men and women in our own day.” He named a number of different situations in which persons today experience loneliness, despite the increasingly global world. He said, “Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability. The image of this is the family.” Modern people have begun to avoid building families on a firm and lasting foundation, viewing love which is faithful and fruitful as “a quaint relic of the past.” This is particularly true in the most “advanced” societies.
Love between man and woman
Biblical Adam shows that he is not content being alone, and God affirms that this state is “not good.” Pope Francis said, “These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as today’s Psalm says (cf. Ps 128).”
The pope called this “God’s dream for his beloved creation” and said that God desires, “to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self.”
Noting that the question posed to Jesus from the Pharisees was a trap set for the Lord, the pope pointed out that Christ “brings everything back to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility.” In this way, Jesus re-proposed what God’s plan was from the beginning of creation.
The Scripture passage, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9) is, says the Holy Father, “an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.”
Pope Francis noted that God’s plan for human sexuality only makes sense in light of Christ: “Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense.” The pope said that fear which stops one from accepting this plan for love, “paralyzes the human heart.” He remarked on the fact that people today are still attracted to the truth. They are “attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love.”
The pope quoted Joesph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) to reflect on how experiencing what the world sees as “unlimited freedom” leads in practice to “world-weariness.” This is the world in which the Church is called to preach and teach the truth about human love: “as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.” This mission is not subject to “passing fads or popular opinions.” The truths the Church proclaims protect persons from selfishness and a life of the temporary. Quoting Pope Benedict again, Pope Francis said: “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).
The Holy Father reflected on the Church’s mission as a “field hospital” and a place “with doors wide open” for all who seek help. St. John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). Pope Francis quoted this and encouraged the Church to seek out the lost and bring them close.
The pope finished his homily requesting “the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.”
October 4, 2015
On Sunday, October 4, the Holy Father’s Sunday Angelus focused on the Synod on the Family with the prayer, “that the Creator’s original plan for man and woman be implemented and may operate in today’s world, in all its beauty and its strength.”
The pope spoke about the readings from the day’s liturgy which referenced God’s plan for man and woman from the beginning of creation. “The liturgy of this Sunday repeats the fundamental text of Genesis on the complementarity and reciprocity between man and woman (cf. Gen 2.18 to 24).” Together, man and woman participate in the love that creates, “the creative power of God himself.” It is this love, the love of the Trinity, which is given to spouses in the sacrament of marriage.
As Jesus embraced the children at the conclusion of the day’s Gospel, the Holy Father prayed that parents, educators and indeed all of society, would become “instruments of that acceptance and love with which Jesus embraces the little ones.” Jesus enables us to become a “family-society” rather than a “fortress-society,” a place that “welcomes, with proper rules, but welcomes… Always welcomes… with love!”
In conclusion Pope Francis entrusted the Synod to the intercession of the Blessed Mother.
Address to the First General Congregation
October 4, 2015
On Sunday, October 4, the Holy Father opened the Synod with an address on the synod process and the qualities needed in its participants.
The pope noted that a synod is “a walking together with a spirit of collegiality,” and a “protected space where the Church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit.” He noted the difference between a synod and a political process, saying “the Synod is not a parliament, where to reach consensus or common agreement recourse is taken to negotiation, to bargaining or to compromises.” Pope Francis reminded the bishops that God “always surprises” and “reveals to little ones what he hides from the wise and the intelligent.”
The three particular qualities the pope focused on were apostolic courage, evangelical humility and confident prayer.
Apostolic courage: to be bold before the world, both against its “seductions” and the “petrification” of hearts that distance people from the Lord.
Evangelical humility: to be “empty” of one’s own view in order to truly listen to the other. Not to judge but to reach out one’s hand to lift another up.
Confident prayer: Opening oneself to God, because, “Without listening to God, all our words will only be ‘words’ that do not satiate and are of no use… ‘decorations,’ which instead of exalting the Gospel cover and hide it.”
The pope called for the synod fathers to be attentive at all times to the Holy Spirit who illumines all things, “and puts before our eyes not our personal opinions but faith in God, fidelity of the Magisterium, the good of the Church and the salus animarum [the salvation of souls].”