In October 2014 Pope Francis convened a Synod on the Family to discuss contemporary issues affecting the Catholic family. The first session started that October 2014 and the final session ended on October 2015. At the end of the first session, Pope Francis canonized Pope Paul VI, the pope who gave us the encyclical Humane Vitae (On Human Life) in 1968. In April 2014, Pope Francis canonized Pope John XXIII in recognition of initiating the Second Vatican Council in 1963. He also canonized Pope John Paul II in answer to a miraculous intercession. Pope Francis requested the intercession of these popes for the success of the synod on the family.
The synod on the family discussed issues such as sex and contraception, the union of gays, and the children raised by same-sex unions including aspects of marriage and re-marriage. Over 191 Church leaders from around the globe participated in the synod including selected lay married men and women chosen by Pope Francis. With the conclusion of the synod, the Church released its position concerning these issues.
In all the centuries of the Church’s existence, challenges like those enumerated above, have always arisen and will continue to arise. God in his mercy and goodness always afforded solutions and will continue to do so. Even at the time of Jesus, his followers came forward to test him. “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. . .Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus had replied in the negative, this would have become a reference point for us today keeping us from obeying secular powers, especially when paying taxes. Rather, Jesus responded, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” Jesus then gave them (and us too) the honest answer to their quest. He said, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
So when we pay taxes, we demonstrate our respect for the state and our political leaders. Imagine what will happen if we do not remit our taxes to the government via the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The early Church had the same problems when it began to expand to other lands. Most of the early converts were Greek speaking of the Hellenist culture. Jews like Paul faced lots of troubles allowing uncircumcised members to join the fold. The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 15 gives us a summary of how the Council Fathers in Jerusalem concluded those important issues. The summary of the Jerusalem Synod is found in verses 28-29, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.” This may sound to us today as very shallow, but at that time, it was a relief to those who were waiting for answers. The openness of the Council Fathers allowed gentiles to flood the Church and be members and allowed them to embrace a new life in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s mission around the Mediterranean coast got legal backing from the results of the Jerusalem synod. He had three missionary journeys to different lands to establish the gospel. In today’s second reading he says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” Long before Paul, the Prophet Isaiah also preached about the goodness of God for all peoples and all nations. He said, “I have called you by name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun, people may know that there is none besides me.” This message of Isaiah is relevant even today.
The Synod on the Family that ended in 2015 is one among many that the Church will convene in the future to resolve many issues. If God is for all people and all kinds of people, should we open or close the doors to some people?
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