Pope Francis was given a five-minute standing ovation after he delivered an awesome address to the 253 participants at the closing session of the synod of bishops on October 18, in which he identified five temptations that he had seen at the synod, and told them “we have one year to mature.”
Speaking from a text which he had clearly written himself, he began by praising them for the way they had participated in the two-week long assembly “with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality”.
He had sat through all the plenary sessions and had observed carefully what had happened without ever saying a word. Now he told them how he saw it.
“It has been “a journey”, and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible”, he said. Was he referring to the interim-Report that sparked hopes and reactions across the globe?
But there were also “moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; and other moments of enthusiasm and ardor”, he said, perhaps referring to the group discussions.
He recalled also the “moments of profound consolation” as they listened to “the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people”. He was probably referring to the bishops from the Middle East.
He mentioned too the “moments of consolation and grace and comfort” as they listened to the 13 married couples who “shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life.”
It was a journey he recalled “where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations.”
But since it was a journey of human beings, the Pope said there were also “moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations”. And here, in the most incisive and insightful part of his talk, he identified five temptations that he had noticed at the synod.
First, “a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word (the letter), and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises (the spirit); (wanting to close oneself) within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve.”
He recalled that “from the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of what is today so-called ‘traditionalists’ and also the intellectuals.” But he mentioned no names, nor did he look at anyone in particular.
The second is a temptation “to a destructive tendency to seeing everything in a rosy light, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.”
This is “the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals”, he stated.
The third one he detected is the temptation “to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast ( Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).”
He saw the fourth as the temptation “to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.”
Then there is a fifth temptation, he said, it is “to neglect ‘the deposit of faith’ by not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters of it; or, on the other hand, “(the temptation) to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a smooth language to say so many things and to say nothing!”
Looking at the synod assembly, he told them “the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted, His disciples should not expect better treatment.”
Pope Francis confided that he would have been “very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace.” But happily that did not happen, he noted with a smile. He mentioned that he had heard “with joy and appreciation, speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of boldness”, and said ,”I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the ‘supreme law,’ the ‘good of souls’”.
They had spoken openly, he recalled, but “without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life”.
He commended them for this, and told them, “This is the Church... the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wounds; who doesn’t see humanity from a house of glass, to judge or categorize people.”
Indeed he said, “This is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, and it is composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church that seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans.”
This is, he said, “The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect!”
He described it as “the Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.”
Pope Francis noted that many commentators had imagined that they would see a Church “where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church, who has always guided the barque (of Peter) throughout history, through her ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers were unfaithful and sinners.”
He recalled how he had told them on the opening day of the synod that “it was necessary to live through all this with tranquility and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place with Peter and under Peter (‘cum Petro and sub Petro’) and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.” He made clear that he is the Pope.
At that point he turned to his own relation to the bishops. He must surely have known, though he did not even mention it, that some - like Cardinal Raymond Burke – had stated publicly that he should have intervened to defend Catholic doctrine, or to remove topics from being discussed.
Looking at the cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay people sitting in front of him in the synod hall, he explained how he saw his role as the Successor of Peter.
“The duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep”, he stated.
The Pope’s duty, he said, “is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service” and that Church is Christ’s “and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants.”
In this context, he said, “The Pope is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant, the ‘servant of the servants of God’; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church”
Then looking ahead to the October 2015 synod, Pope Francis told his audience that “we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”
He told them that there is still one year to work on the synod’s Final Report, “which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups.” And, he added, it is being presented to the 114 Bishops Conferences worldwide now as “guidelines” for their discussion over the next twelve months.
He concluded by praying that the Lord would “accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name” and he asked them to “please, do not forget to pray for me!”
When he finished speaking, all present got to their feet and gave him a five minute standing ovation. That said it all.