Pope Francis wrote a letter to all of us, that is, each family — asking for prayers for October’s Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The synod (group of church leaders) is being convened to discuss “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”
In short, this will be a large meeting where Catholic bishops from all over the world will gather to discuss matters relating to families. As the pope put it in his letter, “This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church.” [emphasis added]
The issues discussed in October may be weighty. Specifically the Synod may have much to say about being more pastorally present to those who are divorced and remarried and wish to remain Catholic but feel unwelcome in the Church. Annulment proceedings are often caught up in lots of red tape. Early rumors about the Synod predict that the pope will examine the annulment process and issue some new pastoral directives related to people who are divorced.
But for the most part, this gathering is about regular family life. How does the Church celebrate families? How might the Church better support families? What do families have to offer the Church? This is all good fodder for discussion at a broad level and opportunity for more ministry and outreach at the local level when bishops return home to their dioceses.
Lent begins this week, and one of the main tenets of the season is prayer. So, how about spending time in prayer for the Synod and more importantly for families? You might want to start by reading Pope Francis’ letter. Additionally, you can combine the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving all in one and add a family focus by choosing a family in need to sponsor for the Lenten season. Perhaps you or your parish knows a family that could use groceries from time to time. Consider pulling back on your extra purchases during Lent and buy some staples for another family instead.
Without families, we have no Church. By placing a priority on families, Pope Francis is signaling that they will be a central piece of his evangelization plan. So, consider what your family has to offer a local parish and then ask what the Church might be able to do for your family as well. What spiritual needs might your family have that the Church could play a role in revitalizing? Think about Sunday Mass and about what happens in your family immediately afterward. Ask your family how Mass affected them today and then select an action plan for family participation in the wider life of the church. Next, write Pope Francis back, thank him for focusing our thoughts on family, and tell him what you and your family have been busy doing.