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The Bishops Focus on the Family

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By Chris Sparks (Oct 9, 2015)
Following up on last year's extraordinary Synod on the Family, the ordinary Synod on the Family runs from Oct. 4, the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, to Oct. 25, 2015. The first full day of the Synod took place on the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, the great Apostle of Mercy, and will be ongoing on Oct. 22, the feast of St. John Paul II, the Great Mercy Pope. On Oct. 18, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, will be canonized, the first time in the history of the Church that a married couple with children will be canonized together.

The synod is essentially a means for the Holy Father to hear the voices of his brother bishops — no authoritative decision will occur through the synod. Any direct exercise of the teaching magisterium of the Church will take place in the Holy Father's apostolic exhortation, expected to be published in the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The synod commenced a week after the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the papal visit to the United States, and it should be taken as an honor and a privilege for the U.S. to be able to set the tone for the synodal discussion in this way.

So that's the ongoing synod. But what do we, the rest of the Church, do during this synod in our parishes and communities? How can we help the bishops in their deliberations and the Church in seeking a response to the crisis in the family today?

We pray. First and foremost, above all else, we offer to God the right praise of worship and adoration, giving glory to God for the tremendous gifts of marriage and the family, of masculinity and femininity, of Catholic faith and natural fertility, of being made in the image and likeness of God. We give thanks to him for every good and perfect gift, and we confess our sins against both him and our neighbors, asking for the grace to be made new.

We go to Confession, then attend Mass and offer our Communions for the synod fathers, for the Holy Father and all the bishops in communion with him as they seek to discern a solution to the crisis confronting the family in the modern world, both those afflicting the West like divorce and the attempted redefinition of marriage, as well as those afflicting the majority of the Church, all our Catholic brethren in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, such as the transition from polygamous societies to monogamous societies, the challenges to families when they must flee their homelands to escape war or criminal activity, and defending the unborn against state policies that encourage or require abortion (especially in China).

We include the synod in our Rosaries and Divine Mercy Chaplets, especially at 3 p.m., the Hour of Great Mercy, venerating the Divine Mercy Image with the intention of the defeat of the enemies of the Church and the family, asking Jesus to send his grace out to all nations for the conversion of our enemies and the strengthening of the good.

We study the teachings of the Church on marriage and the family so that we may better live them and explain them to our families, friends, and neighbors, reading books like Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and popular explanations of the truths proclaimed by the Catholic Church about the foundation of society, the family. We watch videos like the Humanum series (here's the trailer!):

The whole series can be found here.

And we love our families. We perform works of mercy daily, starting right at home with our spouses, our children, our siblings, our parents, and the other members of our families. We are born into a constellation of love, every one of us, even those of us born into dysfunctional or broken families, for God loves us all and sustains us all at every moment with his loving gaze. He forgives us, again and again, all throughout our lives, as parents forgive their children the messes and the spills, the mistakes and the failings, and so we are to do likewise, even when those who are to love us most fail us most.

Mercy begins at home. When mothers and fathers feed their children, they are feeding the hungry. Parents clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, suffer wrongs gladly, forgive again and again, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, and perform all the rest of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, every day, all the time. They do it for their children, and often for their children's children, as well. Mercy begins in the hearts of family members. Having practiced mercy at home, they are then ready to begin to turn a merciful gaze out upon the rest of the world, the broader human and ecclesial family.

A civilization of love begins in the family, and radiates outward to the rest of humankind. So let us begin this time of the synod by such mercy, by such love. Let us prepare our hearts and the Church for the teaching of the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him by following the most basic of Christian teachings, love of God and neighbor, and have faith that the Holy Spirit will see to it that those seeds of love grow, transforming the face of the earth, one small act of love at a time..

Here's Pope Francis' prayer for the synod. Why not offer it daily as the synod continues?

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God's plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

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