Vatican Synod Begins: Pope Francis' Opening Words

(photo: Register Files)

1.Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!


“Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat” – Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands. These are the words of the Laudes Regiae that the schola of the cappella papale intoned at the beginning of the liturgy for the twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, which opened the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops today in Rome.


That antiphon echoed Pope Francis’ words at last night’s prayer vigil in anticipation of the Synod. There, he said that Christ is the “definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured.” Upon him, the synod fathers must fix their gaze. This morning, the papal choir continued to sound that theme: “Within your will, O Lord, all things are established, and there is none that can resist your will. For you have made all things, the heaven and the earth, and all that is held within the circle of heaven; you are the Lord of all.”


As their anthem filled the basilica, one could recall the memory of Pope Benedict XVI. It was not that long ago that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then Dean of the College of Cardinals, presided over the Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,” celebrated inside that same basilica on April 18, 2005.


At that moment in the history of the Church, he cautioned the world that “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” Against such a “modern tyranny” that imposes “a one-dimensional uniformity,” he proposed “a different goal: the Son of God, the true man.”


Jesus alone “is the measure of true humanism,” he said. A mature and responsible “’adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty;” rather, it is “deeply rooted in friendship with Christ,” which “opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”


This same “Lord Jesus willingly calls us his brethren,” Pope Francis read from the Prayer of the Faithful this morning, offered in Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili. He gives us the courage to keep moving forward along the road to the house of the Father. As the pope prayed, “Encouraged by this consoling truth, we turn to God our Father in prayer.” May we continue to do so throughout the weeks of this synodal assembly!


“May the peace of Christ come! May the reign of Christ come!”


2.Christian friendship in the communion of the Church


Yet, the friendship and peace of Christ are not imparted as private privileges for the self-righteous, hermetically preserved in an ‘empty shell’ of ‘sterile selfishness’ (CV, n. 3). In the words of today’s prayer over the offerings (super oblata), they commission us for “dutiful service” and the “sanctifying work by which [the Lord is] pleased to redeem us.” They send us on mission to the peripheries of the world.


Who in that Eucharistic assembly could not feel the presence of St. John Paul II, the great ‘Pope of the Family’? So often during his twenty-seven years on the Chair of St. Peter, he set out from Rome to travel the highways and byways of the world, always announcing the friendship of Christ that frees us from ourselves and beckons us into the wider embrace of the Church. In doing so, he became a model witness of Christian service to others.


I remember the pope’s final visit to the United States in the winter of 1999, on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation. He journeyed to St. Louis, the gateway to the West, in order to call the youth of America to Christ. In a voice already frail, he spoke to us, saying: “Young friends, in the days and weeks and years ahead, for as long as you remember this evening, remember that the pope came to the United States, to the City of St. Louis, to call the young people of America to Christ, to invite you to follow him. He came to challenge you to be the light of the world! … Jesus who has conquered sin and death reminds you: ‘I am with you always’ (Mt 28:20). He says: ‘Courage! It is I; have no fear.’” Non abbiate paura! Aprite, anzi, spalancate le porte a Cristo! Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!


Last night, the radiant and joyful faces of that JP2-Generation illuminated St. Peter’s Square. Now grown into adulthood and beginning families of their own, they prayed at the side of the pope and all the bishops for the life of the Church and the whole world.


While the Synod fathers processed into the basilica at the start of the liturgy, their familiar voices accompanied them, chanting the litany of the saints. The symbolism of the liturgical action was clear: Entrance into the life of the Church comes through friendship with Christ in the communion of his saints, not self-affirmation. What Cardinal Ouellet calls ‘ecclesial consciousness’ awakens in our souls through encounters with those who live the friendship and love of Christ as “lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable, and fruitful.”


3.Christian Love for the Life of the World


This culture of encounter with the saints is sorely needed in our “postmodern and globalized era.” The world we inhabit today “favors a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds” (EG, n. 67). Such a culture gravitates towards a “spiritual consumerism tailored to one’s own unhealthy individualism” (EG, n. 89), as the pope eloquently stated in his Exhortation on the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’


In Philadelphia, he proclaimed Christianity in opposition to these individualist and consumerist ideologies of the postmodern world. The faith anchored in the friendship of Christ in the communion of the saints teaches us to “appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships,” he said there.


Therefore, our reception into the family of faith awakens in us a call to love. As Christians, our vocation is to serve the truth of love: to attract by and “to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love,” as the pope said in his homily. Together in the communion of the Church, we must seek to respond positively to the truth of love inscribed in our nature.


Pope Francis remarked that “nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone.” Truly, “God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love.” God made us to bear witness “to love and to be loved, and to see … love bear fruit in children.”


Yet, the love inscribed upon our hearts must lead us out of ourselves to care for those burdened by what the pope called “The drama of solitude,” which he said “is experienced by countless men and women in our own day.” He remarked that this drama is lived by “the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.”


Such a drama is the weighty “paradox of a globalized world,” the pope said, which is “filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom.”


To respond effectively to this drama of solitude, to build a civilization that “teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away,” is the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the world of today.


4.The Christian Mission of the Family, Vocation of Love


Before some 270 synodal delegates, Pope Francis announced this Good News of the Family.


As he did on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families, the pope “emphatically proclaimed” the Gospel of the Family with the bishops and the entire Church in his homily today. He said that the family is “God’s dream for his beloved creation” and that the Lord desires “to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self.”


Jesus presents this same plan in today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Mark. According to the Divine Master, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).”


This divinely inspired teaching of Christ “brings everything back to the beginning of creation,” according to the pope. From this vantage point, Jesus teaches us “that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility.” He reveals “that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life!” By doing this, “Jesus re-establishes the order which was present from the beginning” and he elevates us to the newness of life lived in the radiance of the Resurrection.


Illuminated by his Paschal light, Christ reveals the family as the origin and destiny of the human community. Rooted in the marriage between one man and one woman, it “is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which [God’s] creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.”


But, when it is embraced in the light of the Risen Lord, this plan glows with all the luminosity of the children of God. As the pope said in his homily, “only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense.”


With the Holy Father and all the synodal delegates, let us pray in the memory of St. John Paul II, that during these weeks “Christ the Lord, the Universal King, the King of Families, be present in every Christian home as He was at Cana, bestowing light, joy, serenity and strength” (FC, n. 86). And, may the pope from “un paese lontano” (a ‘faraway country’), who never tired of meditating on the mysteries of the family and human love in the divine plan, watch over the synodal assembly this month from the “window of the Father's house” as it sets out on a mission of fidelity, truth, and charity at the service of the whole human community and the integral development of mankind.

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