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Donnybrook Parish

Just over a year ago, Pope Francis announced his intention to hold an extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops on ‘Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelisation’. A Synod of the Church is a process of seeking discernment. In his homily at the opening Mass, Pope Francis said, “Synod assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas.... They are meant ........ tohelp realise God’s 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.” He went on to say“We can thwart God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.”

The process has a number of stages.

The first was Consultation, consultation with all the local Churches of the Catholic Church. The consultation document issued last year was wide-ranging, touching on all the issues and challenges with which all families struggle, daily. Interestingly the consultation document asked not just what Catholics think about these issues, but what we are doing about them, our current pastoral responses.

The recent extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops, in which pastors and lay people from every part world came to Rome to discuss the responses, was the second part of the process. The Synod also sought and received the wisdom and experience of other Christian Churches.

The members of the Synod discussed the issues, the pastoral care offered by the Church to families today, and how God’s dream for his people can be lived in the realities of people’s life experience. This is the context for reflecting on the issues. Issues grab the headlines. Contexts are often forgotten.

The Synod meeting at its conclusion issued a summary document called, a relation synodi’. Since some sections of the document did not get the approval of two thirds of the members, the document was not approved. However, at Pope Francis’ insistence, it was published in full. It can be accessed on the Vatican Website or Google ‘Vatican. Relatio Synodi’.

This document forms the basis for the third part of the process, another year of consultation, reflection, research, and another year of prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What the Church seeks, is “what is decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves” (Acts 15:28)), God’s dream!

Next October, there will be the regular or ordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops on pastoral challenges to family life, with a greater number of pastors and lay people attending. This fourth part of the process will endeavour to set out possible pastoral initiatives to respond to contemporary challenges to marriage and family life.

The penultimate part of the process will be the Pope’s response, “to help today’s families walk the path of the Gospel, with their eyes fixed on Jesus”, as he said at the closing Mass, at which he also noted that “God is not afraid of new things”.

Pope Francis began a process. He invites all of us to engage with the process and have confidence in it, journeying together in faith and charity, in the communion of the Church, attending to the experience and wisdom of all, trusting the Spirit at work in the Church to discern what seems good for God’s people. He invites us above all, to pray.

The synod process has a final stage, God’s people living out our discipleship of Jesus Christ in the realities of our lives in the communion of the Church.

Come Holy Spirit!