What a refreshing piece there is on Time magazine’s website. It’s about the meeting on the family that has begun in Rome.
Elizabeth Dias notes that this synod is about much more than politics or disagreements or clever ideas:
something more is happening as bishops gather for the first major doctrinal and pastoral summit of the Francis papacy; something quieter, deeper, and less immediately obvious: a spiritual renewal that Pope Francis hopes to foster between church leaders and their people.
Yes! This is it! This is at the heart of why Pope Benedict XVI resigned and what Pope Francis has been pointing to since the moment he stood on the balcony the night he was elected and asked us to pray for him.
The Christian life is about prayerful transformation in sacramental encounter with Christ. It is radical and makes all the difference. And if Christians are not living it, the world will be impacted and become less humane. This is what we are dealing with today.
This spiritual undercurrent, although quiet, has been powerfully present in the Holy Father’s actions this weekend. On Saturday evening, before the synod officially began and as a pink sun set behind St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called the people to gather in the piazza to pray for the upcoming two-weeks of Synod conversations. A choir chanted a hymn as tens of thousands of people arrived, each silently, most with their families. When dusk fell and the moon had risen, each person lit a candle, and thousands of drops of light filled the square. Vieni Santo Spirito, vieni, or Come Holy Spirit, come, the people sang with the choir, over and over. “May the Wind of Pentecost blow upon the Synod’s work, on the Church, and on all of humanity,” Francis told to the crowd. “Undo the knots which prevent people from encountering one another, heal the wounds that bleed, rekindle hope.”
This is what so much news and commentary swirling around Pope Francis so often misses: His words and gestures are seeped in prayer and invite the world to be transfixed and transformed by the God of love he points to. It’s not about a cult of Francis, an ideological agenda, or political platform, it’s about life in the Cross of Christ and the joy of life in the Trinity.
This prayer service was more testimony to the conviction that any real change in the Church must start with prayer—and a reminder of the people themselves. They, these people, these families, are the reason Francis called this Extraordinary Synod in the first place. It is only the third such special meeting a Pope has called since the Synod of the Bishops was created in 1965. The crowd was so vast that Francis himself most surely could not see the details—the children playing with their candles and dripping wax in patterns on the pavers, mothers comforting crying babies, a son helping a grandmother to a chair, the teenage couple taking selfies—but these are the people who experience the issues of family and marriage in ways clergy, who are celibate, rarely do. He was telling the people that they were foremost on his mind as the Synod began.
The prayer vigil gave me flashbacks to his prayer for peace in Syria this spring and his trip to the Holy Land and prayers for peace there from Rome shortly thereafter, just before all hell seemed to break loose in the region. Don’t look away from the people, God’s holy, faithful people.
We have a great power in prayer and yet are we utilizing this most powerful tool? Do people of faith pray for the family? To form a family, for reconciliation in a family? Do we pray for families torn by persecution? Do we pray for the Church, so that it might be a balm to the souls of men in merciful love and truth? With focus on the family in Rome, there’s no time like the present to do so.
At Sunday Mass opening the synod, Pope Francis said:
We are all sinners and can also be tempted to “take over” the vineyard, because of that greed which is always present in us human beings. God’s dream always clashes with the hypocrisy of some of his servants. We can “thwart” God’s dream if we fail to let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit.
That’s not an admonition only for bishops. It’s something to consider before taking a step, writing, or uttering a word.
This Holy Spirit business is key. Many of us prayed the Holy Spirit was at work in the conclave and it’s a good thing to pray that the faithful are persistently looking to God for our guidance. Only men of faith who care only about God’s will will help illuminate and uplift a culture in misery.
Over the weekend, I was in Newark, N.J.’s Sacred Heart Cathedral as a Bayonne native, Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a Sister of Charity, was declared “blessed,” a step on the road to sainthood, an acknowledgment that one has led a holy life of heroic virtue.
“The reason we have not yet become saints is because we have not yet understood what it means to love,” she wrote in spiritual conferences that were published as a book called “Greater Perfection” after her death. “We think we do,” she continued, “but we do not.”
To love means to annihilate oneself for the beloved. The self-sacrifice of a mother for her child is only a shadow of the love wherewith we should love the Beloved of our soul. To love is to conform oneself to the Beloved in the most intimate manner of which we are capable; to have no views but His views; no thoughts but His thoughts; no desires but His desired; no likes but His likes; no wants but His wants; no hopes but His hopes; no will but His will. It is to have no joy but in suffering for Him; no life but in dying for Him; no glory but in being humiliated for Him; no life but in dying for Him; no deaths but in living for Him. It is to have no consolation but in ministering to Him; no desolation but in grieving Him; no reward but, as the least of the least, in serving Him.
The blessed Jersey gal continued:
Oh, if only we could attain this love, this heroic, magnificent perfection of love, what bliss would not be ours! We should have heaven begun on earth. And we can, if we but to will. The fight will be hard, and the fight will be long, but the Master is fighting for us, and He is invincible.
Making a minute-by-minute commitment to that fight is the stuff of extraordinary lives. May each day of this “extraordinary synod” — and every discussion or act seeking to support flourishing faith and family — begin and be strengthened and nurtured there.
Therein lies a renewal of Christian culture, a civilizational help.