The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family has just concluded. The Ordinary Synod – also on the topic of marriage and the family – will take place a year from now, in October of 2015.
Pope Francis called the Extraordinary Synod a preparation for the 2015 Synod. Normally, after the (Ordinary) Synod, the Pope writes a Post-Synodal Exhortation which summarizes the contributions of the Synod and teaches, through an Apostolic Letter, how the experience of collegiality and dialogue has contributed to the Church concerning the topic of the Synod.
It seems that Pope Francis will not be writing a formal document immediately at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod. Rather, the final document prepared last week by the 2014 Synod participants and voted on by them, will serve as the “lineamenta,” or a kind of “study text” for what will take place next year.
Some of those who participated in the 2014 Synod will also be part of the 2015 Synod: some Cardinals who are part of the ongoing Synod of Bishops, and members of the Vatican Curia – though some of those may change between now and next year. The United States bishops will, I presume, be invited to elect 3 or 4 bishop participants to the 2015 Synod. That could take place in a few weeks at the November meeting.
In concluding the Extraordinary Synod Pope Francis indicated that the final Synod document would “mature” between now and next year. While saying that Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage would not change, the Holy Father has been constant in his call for prayer to the Holy Spirit so that the Church can care best for the family. Indeed we must pray.
The Synod ended, by the Pope’s design, with the Beatification of another of his predecessors, Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Paul VI, who was born in 1897, and served as Supreme Pontiff from June 21, 1963 until his death on August 6, 1978. Pope Paul VI was the Holy Father when I attended theology studies in Rome. I saw him and heard him often during my first three years, until his death in Summer of 1978. He was best known perhaps for his continuation of the Second Vatican Council after the death of St. John XXIII. Many of the liturgical reforms were implemented during the papacy of Paul VI by the Curia in the years after 1965. Some of those changes were further refined by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
In making the decision to celebrate the beatification at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family, Pope Francis rightly highlighted another important contribution of Blessed Paul VI, his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, On Human Life, published July 25, 1968. This prophetic teaching of Pope Paul responded in truth and fidelity to the advent of artificial contraception. It taught in a beautiful way about the true vocation of married love and the unity of purpose which must define the act of love and procreation within marriage.
Sadly, the teaching of Blessed Paul VI and Humanae Vitae was loudly rejected in some places in the U.S. and Europe. A carefully orchestrated and relentless dissent – some of which emanated from our own Kansas City from the pages of the National Catholic Reporter – was the cause of terrible division in the Church. While my predecessor, Bishop Charles Helmsing, clearly rejected the false teaching of the NCR, it continued to spawn a hurtful division in the Church.
The intuitions of Blessed Pope Paul, that the contraceptive mentality would lead to the weakening of marriage itself and the blatant disregard for human life, seemed proven in the spreading epidemic of abortion and the growing frequency of divorce. The loss of the sense of the purpose and meaning of married love in our own day is demonstrated in the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.
Pope Paul VI suffered greatly for teaching the truth about married love and the transmission of human life. He never abandoned the Church’s teaching despite the cultural backlash. He never penned another encyclical in the remaining ten years of his pontificate. Now Pope Francis has affirmed the monumental courage of this great Holy Father and teacher – a bright light in the midst of what St. John Paul II would later show to be a culture of darkness and death. “Before the advent of a secularized and hostile society,” Pope Francis said in his homily last Sunday, “he [Pope Paul] held fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.”
Let us ask the continued intercession of Blessed Paul VI for the work of the Synod on marriage and the family, for that steadfast fidelity to the meaning and purpose of marriage, even when it is unpopular and challenging.