Pope Francis makes references frequently to “the God of surprises”. He does so in such a way that it seems to me he takes inordinate delight in seeing just where that God takes us. That was quite evident today in the closing of the Synod.
I will outline a bit of what went on in the last few days to give you a flavor of how significant I think it was that the God of surprises was out in full force at the end.
The final document of the Synod was provided in draft form to the “Synod Fathers” on late Wednesday afternoon. They were told by Crd. Baldesseri, the Secretary of the Synod that they could not take it out of the Synod hall with them. Apparently, there was very vocal opposition to this since they were provided this document to study it, reflect on it and make any recommendations for change. They could make recommendations from the time they received the draft on up through Friday night. The Secretary then relented but gave them strict orders not to divulge the contents.
There were then about 50 recommendations made to the commission that was writing the final report between Wednesday afternoon and this morning. Some of the recommendations were very strong regarding language they did not want to see in regards to 3 paragraphs, all related to the divorced and remarried, and the use of the “internal forum” or decision of conscience in relation to full participation in the life of the Church.
All the reports and information I was gathering seemed to indicate to me that this might become a real “cliff-hanger” event in seeing what the final document or “Relazione Finale” would say. We were given indication in press conferences on Monday and Tuesday not to expect anything monumental in the final wording, this even coming from Crd. Gracias of India who was a member of the writing commission. We were also told by Ab Mark Coleridge from Brisbane, Australia, that there was little likelihood that consensus would be achieved among the bishops on the “hot button issues” like the divorced and civilly remarried receiving Communion, birth control and homosexuality.
One little piece of information piqued my interest though. It was reported….somewhere and I can’t remember where because my mind is fried by now…that many of the “Synod Fathers” had not said much during the General or Plenary Assemblies and in the small groups. Many of them did not make an “intervention” and remained fairly silent in their small group. This led me to wondering what the final vote tallies would indicate.
This morning…..I started watching the internet closely. The first indication that the vote on the document was done was the presence of live feed from the press conference. A I began watching it, I could pick up enough of the Italian when Fr. Lombardi was speaking and the way his hands were really moving in “Italian hand drama” that something monumental had occurred. The floor was then turned over to Fr. Rosica who is the English press liaison for the Vatican. His first remark was that he had witnessed a miracle. All 94 paragraphs that the writing commission had included in the final report were approved by the necessary 2/3 majority. This indicates to me that the conservatives did not have the sway they thought they had in this Synod. Also, those ones who had not been very vocal may have been the ones that was God’s surprise in all of this. Maybe it really did happen that some listened and were inspired by the Holy Spirit to open their hearts and minds. As I began checking the other major websites, I picked up further indications that this was indeed the God of surprises working in that wonderful merry way that is an indication of His/Her presence in the fact that the paragraphs regarding the divorced and remarried all were passed by the 2/3 majority, with one of them having only one vote that put it over the mark. While the wording of those paragraphs is not outright approval for the divorced and civilly remarried to receive the Eucharist, the door was not slammed shut as many of the very conservative “Synod Fathers” had been calling for. In fact, the wording is that of the German small group report calling for liberal use of the “internal forum” to help people come to an understanding of their situation in terms of participation in the life of the Church. The words “Eucharist” and “Communion” are not mentioned in any of this, meaning participation in the life of the Church could include reception of this Sacrament. You can read about it here and here. The articles are coming out fast and furious on this but I felt these were the best places for you to start. Furthermore, all indications based on the wording of these paragraphs are that a lot of room has been left for PF to “further develop” this issue of the “internal forum”. In my mind, he will have to to give guidelines to “the guys in the trenches” who are asked to work with a couple on this. I think PF will also have to come out with strong wording that says a priest is not allowed to just blow off couples who come to him for help and that the message of mercy will be applied. Many of the reports I have been reading so far since the closing of the Synod are speaking about, as I have also thought, Francis writing either and Apostolic Exhortation or an Encyclical on these issues. The final report was addressed to the pope only but he has had it published….only in Italian at this time….and the final vote tallies for each paragraph. As soon as the full text is available in English, I will provide a link. Some sites are translating it on their own but I would exercise caution as to reliability of those.
The other piece of this story is the pope’s closing remarks. You can link to them here. I think you can see quite clearly how Francis feels about the conclusion of this Synod. I think you can see quite clearly where he stands on the issues. All reports I have read….excluding the conservative/traditionalist ones….are calling this address “monumental”. As regards those of our ‘brothers and sisters’ who consider doctrine and the truth and the “rich teachings of the Church” paramount, we are seeing the “older brother” in full force. You will note a remark Francis makes in his speech regarding the “older brother”.
All in all, I am quite relieved and pleased. As I made my way through the weeks I was in Rome, I began to feel that this whole thing would amount to nothing or put the pope in a bind that he would have to then work his way out of that would result in quite a bit of tension in the already tension filled Church. There still might be tension there as the conservatives are crying that the Synod was really as rigged as they were indicating.
As the pope says, we move forward. And looking at the picture below, he is stepping right out. This was taken this afternoon as he made his way home.
God bless him and keep him healthy!