As the car carriers have pulled up to the neighborhoods and the weather has definitely taken its seasonal turn to gorgeous days here in Southwest Florida, I wanted to take this opportunity to communicate with those of you who may not have lived through our summer and fall of renewal so we can approach our invigorated Catholic Church and our parish family of Saint John together in an open and positive way. It is amazing what we have all achieved in such a short period of time and it is only through the patience, support, generosity, and prayers of our parish that we have been so successful. Over the next several weeks, the primary sections of the Parish Mission will hit on several of these key areas: Pope’s Call for Family as the Focus of our Church, We are Saint John (our collaborative message of engagement), Preparations for the World Meeting of Family and Planned Pope’s Visit to the US, Saint John Active Local Support Efforts, and the Saint John’s Facilities Plans and Updates.
Those of you that have been reading my column (or have watched TV or seen the newspaper) recently have seen the major steps our Mother Catholic Church in Rome is taking to engage and support families. As we found in our Listening Session for the Synod a year ago, our parish family has the same feelings that were expressed during this meeting of the Bishops, that our Church has not been engaging families, couples, and youth effectively recently and new pastoral care should be provided to all families. The official translation of the conclusion of this first (Extraordinary) Synod was released on November 1st. If you have not read it yet, please take a moment to do so directly so you can begin your own discernment: http://www.news.va/en/news/english-translation-of-the-final-relatio-of-the-sy. A few key sections include:
…[W]e have gathered together the results of our reflections and our discussions in the following three parts: listening, looking at the situation of the family today in all its complexities, both lights and shadows; looking, our gaze is fixed on Christ to re-evaluate, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty and dignity of the family; and facing the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern how the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family.
All families should, above all, be treated with respect and love and accompanied on their journey as Christ accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In a particular way, the words of Pope Francis apply in these situations: “The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3: 5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting a closeness and compassion which, at the same time, heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 169)…
In this regard, the Church can assume a valuable role in supporting families, starting with Christian Initiation, by being welcoming communities. More than ever, these communities today are to offer support to parents, in complex situations and everyday life, in their work of raising their children, accompanying children, adolescents and young people in their development through personalized pastoral programmes, capable of introducing them to the full meaning of life and encouraging them in their choices and responsibilities, lived in the light of the Gospel. Mary, in her tenderness, mercy and maternal sensitivity can nourish the hunger of humanity and life itself. Therefore, families and the Christian people should seek her intercession. Pastoral work and Marian devotion are an appropriate starting point for proclaiming the Gospel of the Family…
These proposed reflections, the fruit of the synodal work which took place in great freedom and with a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate points of view which will later be developed and clarified through reflection in the local Churches in the intervening year leading to the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015, to treat The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.
As you have seen from the recent and planned events, Saint John is already living the mission that our Holy Father has asked of us. We will be hosting additional Listening Sessions and online surveys in the New Year to assist our pastor and our Bishop with their thoughts on the Vocation and Mission of the Family. Please join me in reaching out with welcome, love, and respect to all members of our parish family.