Pope Francis Calls for Synod on the Family


In just a few days, from October 5th-19th, Pope Francis will hold a very special and rare event. An extraordinary synod, a meeting of select bishops to discuss matters of extreme and immediate importance will be held.

Pope Paul VI reinstated the synod in 1965 to receive advice on specific subjects. Since that time, only two extraordinary synods have been held: one in 1969, to establish methods for better communication between the Holy See and the national bishops’ conferences and one in 1985, as a mark for the 20th anniversary of Vatican II, which led to the compilation of the Catholic Catechism a few years later.

Pope Francis has called 2014’s synod to address Pastoral Challenges to the Family in Context of Evangelization, and no one was happier to hear of this extraordinary synod than I.

I have heard mixed reactions to Pope Francis and wonder at both sides who are so quick to judge. I don’t know enough about this man to suggest he will change Catholic doctrine as some say. What I do know something about is the suffering that accompanies the breakdown of the family and the huge obstacles to promoting our beautiful and solid faith that accompany that breakdown.

I know that when either spouse puts individual needs above the marital commitment, refuses to accept responsibility, or turns his back on faith, total and utter devastation leaves those left behind with broken hearts. I have held my children as they cried for long nights, and they have held me in much the same manner. Together, my boys and I have weathered storms that come in sudden flashes of anger and pain rocking our world without the buffer a second adult in the home provides.

At those moments which often last years not hours, it is hard to give glory to God.

Today, five years later after my husband’s abandonment, I have a new job. We have housing and food and a car.

We are among the very fortunate few.

Pope Francis is leading flocks of men, women, and children all over the world with far fewer opportunities and far less support than my boys and I have. He is witnessing the rise in sex outside of marriage, cohabitation, materialism, surprise pregnancy and subsequent death through abortion as well as effects of the caste system, dowries, and more.

While we sit in our comfy homes, scanning articles on laptops or tablets, we forget the real challenges that affect so many solely because of the breakdown of the family. We forget that right now half a world away and right down our street, someone is struggling physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually because of the breakdown of the family.

My little one just turned five and started kindergarten. My oldest is applying to college for a possible engineering-physics double major. My two oldest will begin their Eagle Scout projects, and, within about 10 days, I received a full time teaching job in a Catholic school.  My blog, Single Mom Smiling, was picked up by an advertising network, and the results of our annulment finally arrived. God’s timing has been incredible and His plans have proven far greater than mine were for my marriage.

I tell you this, not to brag, but because life here appears Good – and it is, but it is still far from easy.

There are many times that I am exhausted and completely overwhelmed. I worry about my health, what I am feeding the boys, how their schoolwork is when I can’t check it, who brushed his teeth and for how long, if they cleaned their rooms, and…the list is endless.

And somewhere in there, in the midst of trying to figure out all the physical demands children have during the day, I try to remember to lead them spiritually as well, knowing I must put extra effort in to their spiritual development since they are now at risk for repeating the cycle of divorce.

Finding time and energy for that is a challenge to say the least, and we are the fortunate ones.

Millions of others have it far worse. Millions of others will fight for food, will go to bed alone and one day turn to another mistaking lust for love because they don’t know the difference. Millions of others will stray farther from God because they grew up not witnessing His Love.

Millions of children will never see their parents receive the Sacraments. They will never understand the gift of marriage and the Love that binds two people who make such a commitment. They will never understand that being held to another person through a Sacrament is not being chained to another; it is being freed by the support of the other.

They will never understand that the Love of a home with a Mother-Father-Child(ren) is the reflection of God the Father’s Love for us. They will never understand that, even though Jesus is God, He was still given an earthly Mother AND Father to help Him through this world.

Even many of those children of faithful parents will never be taught spiritually because after the breakdown of the family mere survival requires such physical demands that there is often not enough left over to provide spiritually.

Pope Francis has seen this.

He has seen the need to adopt changes to the way the Church ministers to those contemplating marriage and those struggling within the confines of it. He has heard testimony of those who have suffered through divorce, an annulment process that often inflicts greater damage, and the intense loneliness, depression, and hopelessness that results in night after night of abandonment.

Pope Francis has seen that too often those struggling from the breakdown of the family also feel neglected, abandoned, scarred by their Church in their greatest hour of need, and Pope Francis has seen that those people too often then choose to divorce their Catholic faith turning to the arms of another religion or swearing off God all together.

I have seen that too and believe that, if we truly want to start a New Evangelization, we must begin in the home, in the family. Thank you Pope Francis for facing tough issues.

I will be praying for the synod and for families this October and am looking forward to seeing what comes out of this synod! Will you join me? To read the Preparatory Document for the Synod on the Family, please go here.

God Bless…

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21 thoughts on “Pope Francis Calls for Synod on the Family”

  1. Strahlen, thank you for this compassionate and insightful article. The way you share how God has seen you through the difficulties you have faced, is such an encouragement to us as readers. It is faith building. I love Pope Francis, and you’re right he is facing some tough issues. I really appreciate how handles tough topics, with compassion.

  2. It’s simple really:

    Despite the name, very little “extraordinary” has happened at “extraordinary synods”
    The synods are advisory only
    When asked if Francis is going to change doctrine, the answer is “no.” Not because Francis is a liberal or a conservative or whatever you wish to say, but because there is the promise of indefectibility. And any Catholic who isn’t including that is quite frankly derelict in their duty.

    1. You’re right Kevin, and thank God for that indefectibility!

      With all the evil attacking the family and the risk that leaves us though, we need to reevaluate how the church teaches and reaches those at risk (all of us) and those who have been affected and are in need of healing (all of us).

      We can’t and shouldn’t change doctrine, but an advisory committee that figures out how to save the family would be extraordinary indeed!

    2. … but an advisory committee that figures out how to save the family would be extraordinary indeed!

      A very large percentage of those empty pews are from not being able to receive communion. No sense whatsoever to attend mass if you are denied Christ – by
      proxy no less.

    3. Oh James, I’m sorry you see the inability to receive the Body of Christ when you have been divorced and remarried without the Church’s blessing as a problem with the Church. I am sorrier still that you find no reason to attend Mass other than for what you get out of it.

      Again, I will be praying for you.
      God Bless…

  3. I am curious as to whether the dad ever used joint custody or regular visitation rights ? If he totally
    abandoned his children the devastation would be complete. Most separated parents make the kids
    their first priority until they reach high school and beyond. Thanks for all you shared.

    1. He moved 90 miles away but recently bought a weekend house in our town so sees them more now. I have sole physical custody. We have joint legal custody. He sees the boys every Wednesday night for two hours and is good about keeping that time with them. He also takes them every other weekend although this can depend on whether or not they have activities and what the activities are. He now is consistently paying a portion of his child support, not the full amount but a consistent portion anyway.

      A lot of people will say, “At least he’s…” I know this may be unpopular, especially to those looking to justify their breaking up of the family, but “At least…” is NEVER a term we should use to talk about behavior of or treatment by parent or husband or wife.

      Also, saying one is making the children a first priority is a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better. Except in cases of real abuse (and those cases do definitely exist more often than we think), when you leave your marriage, you make YOURSELF the first priority.

      When you are with your children only part time, they may be your first priority at that time, but they are not your first priority. When you are a part time parent, whether custodial or noncustodial, whether by choice or by circumstances, other obligations take precedence when they should not.

      I know I am using strong language here, but we MUST raise our standards. Part time parenting is not what any child needs and we must change our language and stop posting such low standards for ourselves.

    2. The only thing you will never know is what was down the road diverged. Kids do know
      when their paretns are estranged, and living in an emotionally broken home causes its
      own dysfunction. Same boat produced daughters that graduated with honors and now
      highly successful with stable marriages and.beautiful grandkids. The icing came a dozen years later when the oldest said, “Thanks dad, for keeping us sane.” I never let any one or thing come between the overnight weekend visits and they always remained my first priority. There’s many exceptions to an ideal; the ideal, sadly, is becoming the exception.

    3. Yes, but we are too quick to find fault with the other person and avoid looking at what we can do to save our marriage, where the emotional dysfunction is our fault, what we can do to change our actions, words, thoughts. We throw in the towel too quickly too often. I don’t know your circumstances and am in no way saying this is true of you. Like I said, there are real reasons people need to separate, but married couples overall are too quick to walk away.

      As far as putting children first (again not pointing at you since I know very little about your circumstances) too often we walk away because we think we can be happier elsewhere or because our spouse doesn’t understand us or, even worse on behalf of the leaving spouse, because our spouse is crazy or angry or fat or lazy or sloppy or whatever it is that we, as adults, feel is so inexcusible that we can’t deal with it. If he/she is really so bad that our only option is to leave, how can we justify telling our children to deal him/her alone without us as a buffer? This is what happens in split custody. Children are left to deal with an a parent the other parent says isnt good enough. That is not putting children first.

    4. When you see emotional damage being done to children caused by ( put any
      reasons here ) you have to understand that long term exposure to this is going
      to harm children as much as or worse than … as one priest put it, the effects of
      a dead marriage. Love rusts, and this isn’t even what 20% of the ten commands warn of: adultery and coveting it. As far as the buffer goes, children are the most resilient creatures around, they turn into adults and are able to look back and examine in hindsight. These are not reasons or excuses but facts of Life 101. And the first rule and hardest to follow after is to not vilify the other parent.
      This goes a long way to bringing about the peace that comes from acceptance
      of our humanity which has been flawed – and will continue to be – since the
      Fall, as theologians likes to style it. Since that time decades ago our children
      have seen us together again in much more auspicious settings. Life does go
      on, Strahlen. .

    5. I will agree that the other parent should not be vilified, no one should be since we are all sinners, but especially since the other parent is still a child of God and Loved perfectly by Him. But that Love also means we must stop accepting divorce as an option – Hate the sin; Love the sinner. If we truly care for one another, we must speak out, even when it is difficult, against things which will damage us for an eternity. God can repair bodies, hearts, minds, and souls after divorce, but He’d rather us find the Love our spouse is worthy of as His creation. I KNOW this is not easy a lot of times, but the spouse is God’s child. Do we treat him/her as such and how will we explain to God why we found His creation unworthy of our Love one day?

      To pretend divorce does little emotional damage because children are resilient is not acceptable. Why do we force children to be resilient and live (even part time) with someone we found unworthy when we, as adults, cannot? If your spouse is truly unlovable, what is part time parenting exposing your children to? Divorce, in your argument, places children in a position that is unlivable in the eyes of the leaving spouse.

      God gave us free will to choose Love or not. Divorce happens because people think it is easier to walk away than to choose Love and then blame the other person when divorce isn’t a piece of cake. Take Responsibility. Put Your God first and then hold your wife and children close to Him. You must Choose to Love.

      You are right, long term exposure to a loveless marriage is not good, but Love is a choice, and many of us forget to find the Good God puts in the other person that makes him/her Lovable. I would question anyone, especially a priest, who told someone to walk away from a dead marriage. Love rusts, but it is not an object to be trashed. Love is a Gift to be shined up and put on display daily.

      Yes, life goes on, better than before as I have said many times. I would never trade the life I have now for my annulled husband. We are doing well: happy, healthy, employed, settled, faithful, and loving, but it is not easy, and I write, not to vilify anyone, but to speak the Truth about things which others cover up through half truths and justifications. I write to persuade others to find Love within marriage, to let them know that Love can, in fact, conquer the emotionless marriage, the rusty relationship, and a multitude of other issues. I write to warn people of the sin and effect of divorce because I Love them and want what is best for them, because I want others to know that Love is a choice, because I want them to know that they are not weak, that they are strong in the Holy Spirit and that they can choose Love. They can change lives, starting with their own. Displaying the scars of divorce is not my life day to day, but writing about them, offering truth and hope to others, is my calling. That calling is part of my life going on, and I thank God for giving me the strength to not bow under that calling but to embrace it, to choose to Love it, even when it isn’t easy.

      God Bless You James. I will be praying for you.

  4. melanie jean juneau

    You are a much needed voice in the Catholic blogging and writing world. I am thrilled to hear how God is blessing you after your years of struggle.

    1. Thank you, Melanie. Even as divorce becomes more the norm (terrible!) and people think it’s not such a big deal (it is a lasting big deal!), there can still be a terrible stigma against those who have been shaken by divorce.

      I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked to write for ACWB; your open arms have made me want to cry many times. Thank you for giving me a voice, for giving me courage and strength, and for being the Face of Christ for me. Just think…If we hadn’t gone through all that, You and I’d never have connected! God is amazing, isn’t He?!!

  5. Pingback: Catholic Stand Article - Pope Francis Calls for Synod on the Family - Single Mom Smiling

  6. Strahlen-Good and faithful servant-sounds like you have survived all the “blessings” such as those God gave Job, and now, when you once had three thousand camels which were taken away, He is giving you six thousand plus. It was difficult to share all this the way you have and I appreciate it. . And let the five men of your home know how special they are to God. God bless you all and keep you. [“you all” is Texan for all of you]. Guy McClung, San Antonio

    1. Thank you so much, Guy. Thank you for mentioning Job. You’ve brought me back to the days shortly after my husband left. I was shaken and heartbroken, and it was my oldest son, Troy who had just turned 12, who told me to read Job. He said he had learned about Job in CCD and felt we were reliving his experience too. Over the next few months we, like Job, would lose our house and go through more than I can say here. I wish I’d had the faithfulness of Job, but I let my hurt and anger get the better of me some days. I thank God for my boys and how God truly gifted me with each and every one of them.

      I still am saddened for the loss of our marriage and the things I said and did to contribute to it. I wish I’d been a better wife, but I’ve learned a lot since then and would never trade the Faith, Hope, and Love I have now for a marriage which I guess never really existed after all. I can now look back and truly say those “blessings” have taken me farther than I ever could have gone without them. They have truly been Blessings!!

      Thank you also for your Blessing. I’ve always wanted to go to Texas and what it represents to America. Also, “You all” sounds so much better than “YO” which is New Yorker for “all of you.” Thank you for sharing your Blessing with my Boys and me. 🙂

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