In his closing homily, Pope Francis sought to find common ground between the liberals and the conservatives, between the reformers and the traditionalists. He cajoled all the bishops to shun "… a hostile rigidity and a false mercy."
One of the most captivating passages in the Hebrew Scripture is the story of King Solomon who is called upon to end a dispute between two women who are claiming the same baby as their own. Solomon instructs that the baby should be cut in two, since the two women are making an equal claim. One woman is horrified by his decision, but the other woman agrees that this is a just way to settle the matter. It is immediately clear who the real mother is, which not only reunites mother and child but also solidifies the reputation of Solomon as a very wise leader. In his closing homily at the Extraordinary Synod last weekend, Pope Francis was obviously channeling the spirit of Solomon as he sent his fellow bishops home to contemplate the challenging issues that had occupied their attention for the past two weeks.
The closing Mass of the synod was also the Mass for the beatification of Pope Paul VI. Pope Francis took this occasion to address head-on the tension that had surfaced between and among many of the bishops over the topics that the synod sought to address. These tensions came to the surface in bold relief when a preliminary report on the work of the synod contained some groundbreaking language concerning divorced and re-married Catholics and the Church's overall treatment and response to gay and lesbian Catholics. Before the Synod ended, this document was revised and voted upon by all the synod delegates. In getting to the final draft, there were actual votes about what to take out and what to leave in. The result was a much toned down recapitulation of the bishops' two weeks of discussions. Gone were the references to the gifts and qualities of gay Catholics, and gone were allusions to potential changes that would invite a new visioning of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Where the preliminary report of a week earlier was warmly received by many progressive bishops, the final document sought to un-ruffle some feathers and tone down expectations for radical change.
In his closing homily, Pope Francis sought to find common ground between the liberals and the conservatives, between the reformers and the traditionalists. He cajoled all the bishops to shun "... a hostile rigidity and a false mercy." He also underscored the very preliminary nature of the work of this synod. A year from now, another synod will take up where this one left off, and provide some very specific recommendations for him to consider. Most importantly of all, he reminded his fellow bishops that the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, needs to continually read the signs of the times and not be afraid of change.
When Pope John XXXIII entered eternal life well before the Second Vatican Council had finished its work, it fell to Pope Paul VI to conclude the council and to oversee the implementation of its groundbreaking decisions. Fifty years later, we are still absorbing the insights of the council and struggling to respond to the challenges to faith that are part of our modern world. How appropriate and prophetic it was that this synod should end with the beatification of Pope Paul VI. In so many ways, the Extraordinary Synod is a continuation of the work of Vatican II and the work of Pope Paul VI.
And just as the Second Vatican Council occurred in a new media age that allowed so many people around the world to understand the workings of the Church, so also has this synod set a new standard of openness and transparency that can do nothing but good things for our faith. In the final analysis, Pope Francis has done a wonderful thing for our faith in convening this synod and managing it as he has. Our prayers need to be with him and all of our bishops as they look to next year's meeting. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide them as they guide us to a deeper understanding of the demands of faith in our modern world!
Msgr. Paul V. Garrity is the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Norwood.
Msgr. Garrity is pastor of St.Brigid and Sacred Heart parishes in Lexinton.