26th Sunday of the Year

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent consultative body in the Church established by Pope Paul VI in the years just after the Second Vatican Council, and it meets periodically to allow representatives from the episcopal conferences of every nation to deliberate on matters of general concern to the universal Church and to advise the pope on how to exercise his Petrine Ministry for the benefit of all. Most of the time, meetings of the Synod of Bishops are sleepy ecclesiastic affairs that draw little attention from the secular media, but next month that will be different.

From 5 to 19 October 2014, an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will consider questions related to marriage and family life, and this meeting is in preparation for a much larger gathering at the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015. Both of these convocations are intended by Pope Francis to assist the Church in understanding better the present challenges in our culture to marriage and family life and in finding more effective pastoral responses to those challenges. As a part of these deliberations, there will be lively debates among the bishops gathered in Rome, and in preparation for those exchanges, many of the leading theologians and pastors of the Church have already published lectures and books on the questions to be discussed.

Among those questions are the best way to reform the present judicial process needed to obtain a decree of nullity for a marriage that ended in divorce and the best way to provide pastoral care to those who are married outside of the Church and cannot receive the Holy Eucharist or go to Confession. And that’s where the secular media come in. Reporters in Europe and the United States are already describing next month’s meeting of bishops as an epic show down that will either result in a fundamental change of Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage or else lead to civil war in the Church between bishops who want change and those who want to defend beliefs and practices regarded as outdated. Please understand, however, that all such characterizations are written either in ignorance of the nature of Catholicism or from a crass desire to sell more papers or page views. The October meeting of the Synod of Bishops — which may contain some pointed debates among the successors of the apostles — will not result in any revolutions of Catholic doctrine or discipline, and the Church will continue to teach faithfully the timeless and unchanging truth of Jesus Christ and his holy Gospel. Our doctrine does develop over time, but all such development must always be in organic continuity with the deposit of faith. Just as everything the ancient oak tree will become is present in seed form in the acorn, so too everything the Church believes and teaches to be revealed by God is contained in the faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) Do not be confused or agitated by what you may read or hear about the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Father Newman