Fifty years ago this coming December, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) was promulgated by Pope (now Blessed) Paul VI. The fact that an entire chapter of this significant document is dedicated to "fostering the nobility of marriage and the family" has not escaped the notice of Pope Francis. Nor has the placement of this chapter on marriage and family in Part II of the Constitution: "Some Problems of Special Urgency."
Pope Francis has clearly made his own this teaching of the council that "the well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family." (#47)
So it is that our Holy Father has convoked two synods of bishops in Rome to reflect on the joys and challenges of family life in our time.
The fundamental purpose of the synods is to help the Church worldwide become more effective in its pastoral care of families, with a realistic response to the various stresses and problems facing family life in our time.
Once again this year, in anticipation of the October 2015 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on "The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World," the pope has asked for the input of all of the faithful on a number of important matters. The Diocese of Buffalo has prepared six reflection questions that summarize the questions posed in the Vatican's Lineamenta, or preparatory document. These questions are posted on our website. I heartily encourage you to take the time to give these questions some prayerful thought and provide your comments in the way indicated. All your responses will be forwarded to the Vatican by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Don't miss out on this opportunity to add your voice to the synod process. Unlike an ecumenical council, a synod cannot and does not have the authority to develop Church doctrine. The bishops assembled in synod will "assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing faith and morals and in preserving and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline, and ... consider questions concerning the Church's activity in the world." (Canon 342)
It is to this most important end, in this case concerning the vocation and mission of the family, that we are invited to make our own thoughts known to our Holy Father.
For U.S. Catholics, this is also a great opportunity to prepare our hearts and minds for Pope Francis' apostolic visit to our country this September for the World Meeting of Families. We look forward to this graced moment to join with families from around the world in Philadelphia to pray, learn and celebrate the gift of family.