‘A church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock,” Pope Francis said in his homily during a concelebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 4, as he opened the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the family.
Francis is a pope who starts from the real, lived experience of people, not from ideas, and this was reflected clearly in the homily. Addressing the 270 synod fathers from all continents and the 48 other participants (including 18 married couples) at this important assembly, he began by offering a depiction of the contemporary world around three themes drawn from the Mass’s Scripture readings: solitude, love between man and woman and the family.
He analyzed the real and often dramatic situation of people in today’s globalized world, marked by “a growing loneliness and vulnerability,” the image of which is “the family.”
Then speaking of marriage and the family, he explained that “for God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude” and said that “being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.”
He noted that “paradoxically, people today—who often ridicule this plan—continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love.” And he emphasized that “the goal of conjugal love is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life.”
In the face of what he described as an “extremely difficult social and marital context” in the contemporary world, Pope Francis said the church “is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love.”
The church must carry out her mission “in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert,” he said. This means “defending faithful love and encouraging the many families that live married life as an experience that reveals God’s love.” It also entails “defending the sacredness of life, of every life” and “defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.”
Next, the church must carry out her mission “in truth,” that is “the truth which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions.” She must present “the truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centeredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds.”
Finally, the church must carry out her mission “in charity.” This means “not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but—faithful to her nature as a mother—conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy.”
The church must be “a ‘field hospital’ with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.”
Francis insisted that the church must teach “authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a Good Samaritan to wounded humanity.” In support of his stance, Francis recalled what St. John Paul II said in 1978: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the one who falls or who errs must be understood and loved.… We must love our time and help the people of our time.”