A Synod and not a Conference

by on October 6, 2015

I’d like to address the ongoing Synod on the Family in Rome, but not from the perspective of what might or might not happen. Instead, I think it is important to look just as hard at what the Synod is and what it isn’t, within the helpful context of the words of the Holy Father during Monday’s opening session in Rome:

“I should mention that the Synod is neither a convention, nor a parlor, nor a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach compromises. The Synod is rather an Ecclesial expression, i.e., the Church that journeys together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God; it is the Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which…is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life.”

The Synod is not a convention on the family. If you want to know what a convention on the family – a gathering of various speakers and events all occurring at more or less the same time in the same place but without one really unified desired outcome – looks like, you need only to Google images of the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia; that, friends, is a convention. But the synod is not that.

The Pope made clear, also, that the Synod is not a parlor. Parlors and sitting rooms, are for sitting around and talking with little to no organization, a simple venue for “shooting the breeze” on a variety of topics. The Synod of bishops isn’t a cocktail hour for catching-up or casual discussion with no real purpose. It’s not a chance for the College of Bishops to gather and play Parcheesi over some scotch after supper.

The Synod, also, is not a parliament or a senate where debates and speeches are made, not for the purpose of clarification and communion on a certain topic, but with the hope to “make deals and reach compromises” as the goal. The Synod does not presuppose to be a gathering of two or three sides each hoping to have its position, its point of view chosen as the “best.” It bears noting, of course, that most of the media – secular and Catholic – are covering this “meeting of the minds” as though it were taking place in the House of Commons or on the Senate floor and not as if it were being held inside the Synod Hall of the Apostolic See, the home to the Bishop of Rome and the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Alright, Francis, if the synod isn’t any of those things…then what is it? The Synod is an “Ecclesial expression.” It is the whole Church gathering together reading the signs of the times not through the lenses of relativism, individualism, and materialism used by the rest of the culture but with the “eyes of faith and with the heart of God.” This isn’t the Church taking a peek out of its oft-closed windows at an ever-changing world. No, this is the Church “that journeys together”, windows always wide open at every corner of the globe, coming together to share what it sees, what it has been seeing as it goes about its work in the midst of the world.

The Synod is the arena in which the Church will look long and hard at its carrying out of what it believes, not at the possibility of changing what it believes to suit the needs of the times. The Pope himself affirmed this over and over both during his trip the United States and in his address at the opening of the Synod when he said the Church will “interrogate herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith.” This deposit of faith is not something we make up or have the right to bend and mold into the shape of the time; it is something passed down to us, it is a gift. The Church has the responsibility to guard this biblical and apostolic faith because it is the faith of the Church of Christ and it is the faith on which we stake not just our earthly existence, but the salvation of our souls and eternal life.

This deposit of faith, so says Francis (and the entire history of Catholic tradition), is a “living source” because it comes from the Living Source, and it serves to “satisfy, and…illuminate” every aspect of the life of the Church.

So let us pray for the Synod Fathers, observers, and auditors; let us pray for the Holy Father and for our beloved bishops; let us pray for the Catholic faithful around the world who so eagerly await not a change in doctrine but a new set of guidelines and propositions developed through the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit that will lead us toward being all the more a Church of mercy, and of love, and of fraternity, and of peace.

And may God who has begun this work now bring it to fulfillment.