By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The world Synod of Bishops on the family is not a parliament where participants will negotiate or lobby, Pope Francis said, but it must be a place of prayer where bishops speak with courage and open themselves to “God who always surprises us.”
Opening the first working session of the synod Oct. 5, the pope said the synod’s 270 voting members need courage, “pastoral and doctrinal zeal, wisdom, frankness and to keep always before our eyes the good of the church and of families and the supreme law — the salvation of souls.”
Arriving about 15 minutes before the session began, Pope Francis welcomed to the synod hall the members, delegates from other Christian communities and the men and women who will serve as experts and observers.
The synod is not a convention or a parliament, Pope Francis said, “but an expression of the church; it is the church that walks together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God.”
Synod members must be faithful to church teaching, “the deposit of faith, which is not a museum to be visited or even simply preserved, but is a living spring from which the church drinks to quench the thirst and enlighten” people, he said.
The synod hall and its small working groups, he said, should be “a protected space where the church experiences the action of the Holy Spirit.”
In a spirit of prayer, the pope said, the Spirit will speak through “everyone who allows themselves to be guided by God, who always surprises us, by God who reveals to the little ones that which he has hidden from the wise and intelligent, by God who created the Sabbath for men and women and not vice versa, by God who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one missing sheep, by God who is always greater than our logic and our calculations.”
Synod members need “an apostolic courage that does not allow itself to be afraid in the face of the seductions of the world” that are attempting “to extinguish in human hearts the light of truth” and replace it with “little and temporary lights,” he said.
However, at the same time, Pope Francis said, apostolic courage does not tremble in fear “before the hardening of certain hearts that despite good intentions drive people further from God.”
Evangelical humility is “emptying oneself of one’s own convictions and prejudices in order to listen to our brother bishops and fill ourselves with God,” he said. It is a humility, “which leads us not to point a finger in judgment of others, but to extend a hand to help them up again without ever feeling superior to them.”
Trust-filled prayer is an attitude of openness to God and silencing one’s own preferences “to listen to the soft voice of God who speaks in silence,” Pope Francis told the synod members. “Without listening to God, all of our words will be just words that don’t quench or satisfy.” Without prayer, “all our decisions will be just decorations that instead of exalting the Gospel cover and hide it.”