by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
The word "synod" derives from Greek and means "to walk together." The synodal journey of the bishops has drawn to a close, with the Final Document presented and voted on. In a certain sense, the synodal journey may even be prolonged if Pope Francis should decide to pen a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Even if he should decide to forgo such an exhortation, the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy will be an occasion for the work of the two Synods, Extraordinary and Ordinary, to bear fruit in the life of the Church, universal and particular.
During the Synod, certain Fathers and participants reflected on the Lucan passage in which the Risen Lord Jesus encounters two disillusioned disciples leaving Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. Jesus breaks open for them the bread of God's Word, explaining ("exegeting" passages, as it were) for the disciples all those Messianic prophesies in the Old Testament concerning Him, so that they might finally understand why their long-awaited and hoped-for Messiah had to suffer, die and gloriously rise from the dead on the third day.
Only as they reached the end of the long and winding road to Emmaus, do the disciples find that their hearts are burning with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit; do they beg Jesus, "the Light of the World" to "stay with them" for evening had come and the day was almost over. And thus, the disciples' eyes are opened to recognize Who that Stranger really is, indeed their promised Messiah, Lord and Savior, as He breaks for them the Bread of the Eucharist and then mysteriously disappears from their midst, as if to say: "Ite Missa Est!" ("Go, the Mass is ended!").
The Holy Eucharist certainly sustained the Synod Fathers and now they must in turn "cum Petro et sub Petro" ("with Peter and under Peter") sustain their local churches (dioceses/eparchies) with solid Catholic doctrine and a pastoral praxis that is always intimately connected to and rooted in unchanging doctrine as living water always remains united to its living source.
Thus, first and foremost, the bishops and their faithful collaborators, the priests ,will endeavor through their pastoral service to the entire People of God to strengthen those individuals, couples and families already living in more or less "normal" situations that nonetheless are always imperfect due to our human weakness and sinfulness.
At another level, as the Synod Fathers identified time and again, there are numerous, complex pastoral situations in our contemporary Church and society which the pastors of the Church must take into careful consideration, all the while demonstrating Christ's own closeness and mercy to individuals, couples and families that find themselves in difficult and "irregular" situations [This latter term is used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and general editor of the Catechism, pointed out in the final Press Briefing.]
However, as the Church and her pastors draw near to those in need of particular outreach along their own long and winding road to Emmaus, the Church has something concrete (not nebulous and abstract!) to offer them.
First, the Church offers us God's Word, which must inform individual consciences, so that people may ascertain authentic divine and human wisdom and, when necessary, truly repent of their sins, so as to grow in genuine human and Christian virtues. People need to know that God's Word – from the first word of Genesis to the last word of Revelation – contains a very clear understanding of the proper nature of marriage and the family.
As Cardinal Schönborn explained in that Vatican Press Conference, the revealed plan of God is that marriage is and ever shall be a sacred institution between one man and one woman who, forsaking all others, are joined in an indissoluble bond of conjugal love open to the possibility of procreating life for the common good of society and the Church. Indeed, the family, as willed by the Creator "from the beginning," remains for all times and places andcultures the "domestic church" ("ecclesia domestica").
Secondly, individuals, examining their consciences under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the assistance of the trained and inspired pastors of the Church, will step by step become better "formed" as human persons, as integral members of the Church and society. As Pope Francis, following the model of St. Ignatius Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises," has indicated, for example, in his Wednesday catecheses on the family, individuals are surely challenged to "discern" God's Word (Gospel message) and Will in their daily lives and consequently to apply its lessons to the concrete circumstances in which they live.
However, neither the Pope nor the bishops in communion with him, expect that individuals will make this "discernment" in a vacuum, that is to say, apart from the clear teachings of Christ and His Church, "one, holy, catholic and apostolic."
A popular expression states that "all good things must come to an end," and Shakespeare famously declared that "all's well that ends well." Therefore, we indeed hope that the good work of the Synod will be brought to completion, not merely with the publication of any documents or discourses, but more importantly in our individual lives – in the lives of our families, parishes, and dioceses, as well as in civil society.
Some may be still be wondering if the Synod was "much ado about nothing" since it will not effect any change in the Church's teachings on marriage and the family. Those who entertained such grandiose and unrealistic expectations of a" pastoral" synod will surely be disappointed, perhaps even disillusioned by its "Final Document." If, however, they begin to think of the Synod as analogous to the Risen Lord Jesus meeting them along their particular journey of life and pilgrimage of faith, then they too, like the disciples of Emmaus, may end up walking away with a very different perspective.
Accompanied by the Lord and His Church, those who open themselves up to the challenges and demands of God's inspired Word and to the teachings of the Church which encapsulate that very same, unadulterated Word, such pilgrims will walk away enlightened, transformed and filled with more hopefulness and an all-encompassing joy.
Only then, with a more informed and formed conscience, will individuals, couples and families – whatever their particular situation or plight in this transitory life – be properly disposed to welcome Our Lord in the Eucharistic Mystery in such a way that not only fully respects the dignity and integrity of the Sacrament of the Lord's Body and Blood, but thereby also serves effectively to fortify their hearts, minds, souls and spirits in preparation for completing their pilgrimage to the new and eternal Jerusalem.