The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was attended by 253 people – men and women representing the Universal Church, including our Holy Father Pope Francis, Cardinals from the Vatican and the Roman Curia, Bishops from around the world, as well as the Bishops of the Eastern Oriental and the Anglican Church, 38 auditors, 13 married couples, and 16 experts – to discuss and reflect on the theme of Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization. The synod, however, was met with some confusion and tension as Bishops did not agree on what would constitute pastoral and legitimate responses to the various challenges and circumstances that affect today’s families.
The challenge of the Church today is to find an effective way to communicate Christ’s teachings to the world and make His teachings relevant to the new generation of families that are faced with new and unprecedented challenges. While we must be pastorally sensitive to the needs of the people, we must not forget our call to remain faithful to Christ and His teachings. Perhaps no one understands this better than Pope Francis, as he warned bishops against the following five temptations:
1. Addressing the more conservative bishops at the Synod, Pope Francis pointed out the temptation to…hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous, of the so – called today “traditionalists,” and also of the intellectuals.
2. Addressing the more liberal bishops who advocate changing the Church’s teachings to appeal to the worldly…the temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes or the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
3. Addressing those who prefer convenience to truth…the temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf. Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).
4. Addressing those who reduce the Gospel to social work and making the Gospel more palatable…the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
5. Addressing those who water down the faith of the Church…The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith: refers to the entirety of Christ’s revelation which makes up the complete body of doctrines of the Catholic Faith, that was handed down from Jesus to the Apostles, from the Apostles to their successors, and so forth to our times], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!
G. K. Chesterton was right when he said, “We do not want, as the newspaper says, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.” As the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis seeks to make this into reality by constantly steering the Church of today towards the heavenly kingdom. As our Holy Father reminds us in his own words, “The Pope is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church”. The lesson we can learn from all this is, yes, Pope Francis is Catholic, and as a Vicar of Christ, he has a message for the world!