Tag Archives: Synod of Bishops

God’s vineyard, or mine: Pope Francis’ homily opening the Synod

Pope Francis and Cadinals Oct 5 2014 REUTERS

Knitting the fabric together you will want to read the Pope’s reflections from the Saturday Vigil, today’s homily and the Angelus address. Read independently you’ll not have the full flavor of what he’s trying to say to the Church.

The difficulty that is arising is the confusion of what a synod is, and the perceived division among the theologians, especially among some cardinals. The pastoral thing to do in any situation is to know in a concrete way what is going on in the people’s way of life. The trouble is bishops and other pastors tend to not to really care what their people believe, think, how they live and what their struggles are: they are too insulated; they are too attached to their own opinions of “what should be.” When you are cut off from the laity: rarely speaking with and listening to them, hearing their confessions, counseling them, etc. there is no way a pastor of souls can claim to know his sheep. See if this is what the Pope is saying.

The homily from Mass follows:

Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the Lord’s vineyard.  The Lord’s vineyard is his “dream”, the plan which he nurtures with all his love, like a farmer who cares for his vineyard.  Vines are plants which need much care!

God’s “dream” is his people.  He planted it and nurtured it with patient and faithful love, so that it can become a holy people, a people which brings forth abundant fruits of justice.

But in both the ancient prophecy and in Jesus’ parable, God’s dream is thwarted.  Isaiah says that the vine which he so loved and nurtured has yielded “wild grapes” (5:2,4); God “expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness, but only a cry of distress” (v. 7).  In the Gospel, it is the farmers themselves who ruin the Lord’s plan: they fail to do their job but think only of their own interests.

In Jesus’ parable, he is addressing the chief priests and the elders of the people, in other words the “experts”, the managers.  To them in a particular way God entrusted his “dream”, his people, for them to nurture, tend and protect from the animals of the field. This is the job of leaders: to nurture the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.

But Jesus tells us that those farmers took over the vineyard.  Out of greed and pride they want to do with it as they will, and so they prevent God from realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.

The temptation to greed is ever present.  We encounter it also in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds (cf. ch. 34), which Saint Augustine commented upon in one his celebrated sermons which we have just reread in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Greed for money and power.  And to satisfy this greed, evil pastors lay intolerable burdens on the shoulders of others, which they themselves do not lift a finger to move (cf. Mt 23:4)

We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the Lord’s vineyard.  Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent…  They are meant to better nuture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people.  In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.

We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings.  God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants.  We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity.

My Synod brothers, to do a good job of nurturing and tending the vineyard, our hearts and our minds must be kept in Jesus Christ by “the peace of God which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7).  In this way our thoughts and plans will correspond to God’s dream: to form a holy people who are his own and produce the fruits of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:43).

Pope Francis prays for a listening heart fixed on Christ’s gaze

Luisna Pucci and Elise NataleDear families, good evening!

The evening falls on our assembly.

It is the hour in which one willingly returns home to the same meal, in the thick of affections, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates in the days of man the feast without end.

It is also the most weighty hour for he who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans: how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes was the wine of joy less plenty, therefore, the zest – and the wisdom – of life. For one another we make our prayer heard.

It is significant how – even in the individualistic culture which distorts and  renders connections fleeting – in each person born of a woman, there remains alive an essential need of stability, of an open door, of someone with whom to weave and to share the story of life, a history to which to belong.

The communion of life assumed by spouses, their openness to the gift of life, the mutual protection, the encounter and the memory of generations, educational support, the transmission of the Christian faith to their children . . . With all this, the family continues to be a school without parallel of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a just and united society. (cfr Esort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 66-68).

And the deeper its roots, the more it is possible in life to leave and to go far, without getting lost or feeling out of place in foreign lands.

This horizon helps us to grasp the importance of the Synodal assembly, which opens tomorrow.

Already, the “convenire in unum” surrounding the Bishop of Rome is an event of grace, in which episcopal collegiality is made manifest in a path of spiritual and pastoral discernment.

To search for that which today the Lord asks of His Church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the “scent” of the people today, so as to remain  permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility.

We know, in fact, as in the Gospel, there is a strength and tenderness capable of defeating that which is created by unhappiness and violence.

Yes, in the Gospel there is salvation which fulfills the most profound needs of man! Of this salvation – work of God’s mercy and grace – as a Church, we are sign and instrument, a living and effective sacrament.

If it were not so, our building would remain only a house of cards, and pastors would be reduced to clerics of state, on whose lips the people would search in vain for the freshness and “smell of the Gospel.” (Ibid., 39).

Thus emerges also the subject of our prayer.

Above all, we ask the Holy Spirit, for the gift of listening for the Synod Fathers: to listen in the manner of God, so that they may hear, with him, the cry of the people; to listen to the people, until they breathe the will to which God calls us.

Besides listening, we invoke an openness toward a sincere discussion, open and fraternal, which leads us to carry with pastoral responsibility the questions that this change in epoch brings.

We let it flow back into our hearts, without ever losing peace, but with serene trust which in his own time the Lord will not fail to bring into unity.

Does not Church history perhaps recount many similar situations, which our Fathers knew how to overcome with persistent patience and creativity?

The secret lies in a gaze: and it is the third gift that we implore with our prayer. Because, if we truly intend to walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ – Lumen Gentium – to pause in contemplation and in adoration of His Face.

If we assume his way of thinking, of living and of relating, we will never tire of translating the Synodal work into guidelines and paths for the pastoral care of the person and of the family.

In fact, every time we return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and un-thought of possibilities open up. This is what the Gospel hints at: “Do whatever he tells you.”

These are the words which contain the spiritual testament of Mary, “the friend who is ever-concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives” (EV 286). Let us make these words ours!

At that point, our listening and our discussion on the family, loved with the gaze of Christ, will become a providential occasion with which to renew – according to the example of Saint Francis – the Church and society.

With the joy of the Gospel we will rediscover the way of a reconciled and merciful Church, poor and friend of the poor; a Church “given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without.” (Lumen Gentium, 8)

May the Wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church, and on all of humanity. Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope.

Grant us this creative charity which consents to love as Jesus loved. And our message may reclaim the vivacity and enthusiasm of the first missionaries of the Gospel.

Commitment to Marriage –an open letter to the Pope and bishops

Commitment to Marriage
A Letter to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Holy Father, Eminences, and Excellencies,

We rejoice that the Holy Father has captured the world’s attention and so much good will for the Christian faith! Like others we are deeply moved by his expressions of love and mercy, echoing the love and mercy of Christ, especially for those who are defenseless and abandoned.

It is in this context that we welcome the decision to convene an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to examine the challenges to marriage and the family.  Like each of you, we believe the family is, with the Church itself, the greatest institutional manifestation of Christ’s love.  For those who wish to love as He would have us love, marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society.

Recent popes have made these points abundantly clear.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that, “Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society.” And, in Evangelii Gaudium, Your Holiness wrote that “the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”

This Synod is an opportunity to express timeless truths about marriage. Why do those truths matter? How do they represent true love, not “exclusion” or “prejudice,” or any of the other charges brought against marriage today?  Men and women need desperately to hear the truth about why they should get married in the first place.  And, once married, why Christ and the Church desire that they should remain faithful to each other throughout their lives on this earth.  That, when marriage gets tough (as it does for most couples), the Church will be a source of support, not just for individual spouses, but for the marriage itself.

You have written so powerfully, Holy Father, of the importance of a new evangelization within the Church: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

May we humbly suggest that in the context of marriage and family life your words are a call to personal responsibility, not only for our own spouses and children, but for the marriages of those God has put by our side: our relatives and friends, those in our churches and in our schools.

The stakes are high.  According to a 2013 Child Trends international report: “Dramatic increases in cohabitation, divorce, and nonmarital childbearing in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania over the last four decades suggest that the institution of marriage is much less relevant in these parts of the world.”  In the United States the marriage rate is the lowest ever recorded, unmarried cohabitation is rapidly becoming an acceptable alternative to marriage, and more than half of births to women under 30 years of age now occur outside marriage. Among countless other negative associations, each of these trends has been linked to lower net worth and economic mobility, poverty, and welfare – for women and children, in particular.

Among existing marriages, many are fragile and strained. Between forty and fifty percent of all first marriages in the U.S. are projected to end in divorce. This rate rises sharply with each successive remarriage and research suggests the reason is not low marital quality, but weak commitment.

The consequences of divorce and cohabitation for children and adults are many and diverse – from poverty and lower educational achievement to poorer physical health; from lower marital commitment in adulthood to earlier death.  And while every nation is unique, studies show that the impact of these trends spans the globe. A small sampling of such studies: China,  Finland, Sweden, Uruguay, Mexico, Greece, Africa, and East Asian Pacific nations.

The costs of pornography to societies are significant. Studies of pornography’s impact on relationships suggest it is a major contributor to the destruction of marriages. Unfortunately, long-term research on pornography’s effect on marriage is virtually nonexistent.

So called “no fault divorce” laws in the U.S. and many other nations have licensed a system in which judges and lawyers facilitate the dissolution of marriages, often against the will of spouses who stand firm in their marital commitment.

Despite the bleakness of these trends, we are encouraged and made resolute by the Holy Father’s exhortation: “Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.”

Perhaps the boldest new way we can evangelize married couples (and by extension their children’s future marriages) is to build small communities of married couples who support each other unconditionally in their vocations to married life. These communities would provide networks of support grounded in the bonds of faith and family, commitment to lifelong marriage, and responsibility to and for each other.

Here we offer some practical ways to create and sustain such communities:

• Commission the Pontifical Council on the Family to conduct cross-discipline, longitudinal research on the role of pornography and “no fault” divorce in the marriage crisis.

• Educate seminarians. Provide mandatory courses covering social science evidence on the benefits of marriage, threats to marriage, and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation to children and society.

• Train priests to showcase in their homilies the spiritual and social value of marriage, contemporary challenges to it, and parish help for troubled marriages. A recent study found that 72% of American Catholic women say the weekly homily is their primary source for learning about the faith.

• Create small, vibrant networks of strong married couples as mentors at the parish level, available to give spouses the tools to sustain healthy, lifelong marriages.

• Educate parishioners on the extraordinary influence they can have on the marriages of friends and family. Social science data show that the presence of divorced family and friends increases one’s own risk of divorce. Alternatively, the data suggest that family members and friends can increase commitment and satisfaction within marriages of those they love through their example and support.

• Encourage and support the reconciliation of married couples who are separated or have been divorced by civil courts.

• Request bishops worldwide to initiate regular prayers during Sunday Mass for strong, faithful marriages.

• Support efforts to preserve what is right and just in existing marriage laws, to resist any changes to those laws that would further weaken the institution, and to restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman, entered into with an openness to the gift of children, and lived faithfully and permanently as the foundation of the natural family.

• Support religious freedom in divorce courts. Many do not know that religious freedom is routinely violated by divorce judges who ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner. Begin a consortium of attorneys and legislators to combat this problem.

To accomplish any of these goals on an international scale would be a great step forward for marriages and families. To accomplish them all may turn the worldwide marriage crisis on its head.

With your leadership we will help marriages to succeed and flourish by placing the greatest value on marital commitment – at every level of society, in every corner of the world. We thank Your Holiness, Eminences, and Excellencies for taking up this vital task and you may be assured of our prayers for its great success.


[Affiliations, where listed, are for identification purposes only]

Greg and Julie Alexander
Founders, The Alexander House Apostolate, Texas

Ryan T. Anderson
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC

Erika Bachiochi, Esq., legal scholar and author, Massachusetts

Monsignor Renzo Bonetti
Founder and President, Fondazione Famiglia Dono Grande, Italy

Gerard Bradley
Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame Law School

Ana María Celis Brunet
Professor of Law, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Mary Eberstadt
Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC

Jason and Crystalina Evert
Founders, Chastity Project, Colorado

Patrick Fagan
Director, The Marriage and Religion Research Institute, Family Research Council, Washington, DC

Thomas Farr
Visiting Associate Professor and Director, The Religious Freedom Project Georgetown University

Silvio Ferrari
Professor of Law, University of Milan, Italy

Richard Fitzgibbons
Director, The Institute for Marital Healing, Pennsylvania

Juan G. Navarro Floria
Profesor Ordinario, Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina

Matthew Franck
William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution
The Witherspoon Institute, New Jersey

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

Mary Ann Glendon
Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

Bruce and Jeannie Hannemann
Co-Directors, RECLAiM Sexual Health
Co-Founders, Elizabeth Ministry International

George A. Harne
President, The College of Saint Mary Magdalen

Mary Hasson
Fellow, Catholic Studies Program, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington DC

Alan J. Hawkins
Professor of Family Life, Brigham Young University

Kent R. Hill
International Development leader, Washington DC

Byron Johnson
Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and
Director, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University

Thomas Lickona
Director, Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect and Responsibility) State University of New York at Cortland

John McCarthy
Dean, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Rocco Mimmo
Chairman, Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, Sydney, Australia

Gloria M. Moran
Professor of Law, Chair of Law, Religion and Public Policy, University of La Coruña Spain

Jennifer Roback Morse
President, Ruth Institute, California

Melissa Moschella
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Rafael Navarro-Valls
Emeritus Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain
Secretary General of the Spanish Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation

Rafael Palomino
Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain

Marcello Pera
Former President, Senate of Italy
Professor, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, Italy

Vicente Prieto
Universidad de La Sabana, Bogotá, Colombia

Fr. Juan Puigbó
Diocese of Arlington, VA

David Quinn
Director, The Iona Institute, Ireland

Mark Regnerus
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

Balázs Schanda
Professor of Law, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary

Alan E. Sears
President, CEO, & General Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom

Reverend Charles Sikorsky
President, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

O. Carter Snead
Professor of Law, William P. and Hazel B. White Director, Center for Ethics and Culture, University of Notre Dame

Reverend D. Paul Sullins
Professor of Sociology, The Catholic University of America
Senior Fellow for Family Studies, Family Research Council
President, The Leo Institute, Washington, DC

Rebecca Ryskind Teti
Center for Family Development at Our Lady of Bethesda

Mervyn Thomas
Chief Executive, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, United Kingdom

Javier Martinez-Torron
Professor of Law, Chair of the Department of Law and Religion, Complutense University

Hilary Towers
Psychologist, Manassas, Virginia

D. Vincent Twomey
Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Pontifical University, Maynooth, Ireland

Paul C. Vitz
Senior Scholar and Professor, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

Rick Warren,
Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California

Robert Wilken
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia

What The Germans Want and Why

Reinhard MarxWe are quickly coming up to the Roman synod of bishops on the challenges of marriage and family life. It doesn’t seem to be getting too much concern and the realities of these two important poles of human existence. Many Catholics have no faith that synods are worthwhile as they propose nothing useful in living the Good News.  Of consequence to most Catholics is that bishops have no real impact on the faith’s ability to move the heart. I am unsure if this is totally accurate but it is a sentiment.

One such author who is interested in the synod, and cares very deeply about the truth and beauty of the faith, however, is Beverly De Soto, the editor of the online magazine Regina. DeSoto is a fitting person to raise concerns and to orient our attention which becomes obvious in what she writes in her blog piece, “What The Germans Wants and Why.”

Why the picture of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Münich and Freising? Because he is the very public face of Catholicism in Germany at present and he is on the Pope’s C9 advisory group.


Family in Society

More reflection on the Synod of Bishops’ working document:

The synod will have to reflect on how to promote in today’s world a ministry which encourages the participation of the family in society. Families are not only the subject of protection by the State, but must regain their role as active agents in society. In this regard, the following challenges emerge: the relationship between the family and the workplace; the relationship between the family and education; the relationship between the family and health; the family’s ability to bring generations together so as not to neglect the young and the elderly; the situation of the rights of the family institution and its specific relationships; and the promotion of just laws, such as those that ensure the defense of human life from its conception and those which promote the social goodness of an authentic marriage between a man and a woman. (34)

The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, 2014

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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