Just now the Vatican Press Office published the Holy Father’s Letter to Families, written with a view to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, to be held this coming October in the Vatican. A Synod is a meeting of cardinals and bishops – a sort of council – with various consultors and so forth, to look at a particular issue in the life of the Church and strive to respond to current needs. Synods ordinarily happen roughly every five years (I think), the last one having been held in 2012; hence the one this year is “extraordinary”, in the sense that it does not fall within the normal cycle and was called specially by Pope Francis.
You can read the Pope’s entire brief letter here, but I want to highlight in particular his request for prayer. First, he says this (with my emphasis added):
This important meeting will involve all the People of God – bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular Churches of the entire world – all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer. Such support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more necessary than ever. 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. I ask you, therefore, to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synodal Fathers and guide them in their important task.
Then, in closing the letter, he again asks for prayer (again, with emphasis added):
Dear families, your prayer for the Synod of Bishops will be a precious treasure which enriches the Church. I thank you, and I ask you to pray also for me, so that I may serve the People of God in truth and in love. May the protection of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph always accompany all of you and help you to walk united in love and in caring for one another. I willingly invoke on every family the blessing of the Lord.
Let us remember, therefore, to take the Holy Father’s request to heart and make this part of our regular prayer intentions. This prayer is particularly important, especially in light of the fact that there are so many in the Church who are not living in accordance with its teachings – as recent news continually demonstrates – and moreover have no desire to do so, but rather hope to change the Church’s moral teaching, as if that were possible. Prayer is what helps us to recognize the will of God and to change our wills accordingly. The Church must be faithful to what Christ has revealed, even when that teaching, in certain periods of history, becomes very difficult to observe because of widespread neglect on the part of the Church’s pastors in teaching on it (as has certainly been the case in teachings on family and sexuality), or widespread rejection and contempt of the same teachings on the part of civil society. The Synod Fathers therefore have a delicate and difficult task to face, and assiduous prayer will help not only them in their work but also the entire Church to receive the fruits of their labors.
For more on what’s at stake please see my recent post, Church vs. World: Clash of Powers