Pope Francis on Saturday presided over a candlelight vigil for the Synod on the Family, calling on the Synod Fathers to listen to families, including the Holy Family, over the course of their deliberations.
“The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognize God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust," the Pope said. “It is a place of gratuitousness, of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to be forgiven."
“Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world."
Speaking the night before the opening of the Synod on the Family, he called on Synod participants – many of whom were present – to “acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy" in the family, and “embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship: war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness, which create distress, resentment and separation."
“May (the Synod) remind these families, and every family, that the Gospel is always ‘good news’ which enables us to start over," he said, addressing the crowds – many of them families with children – gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.
The pontiff also reflected on the importance of looking to the Holy Family.
The family of Nazareth, he said, was not unlike most families: “with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body."
“Let us set out once more from Nazareth for a Synod which, more than speaking about the family, can learn from the family, readily acknowledging its dignity, its strength and its value, despite all its problems and difficulties."
Pope Francis prayed that the Synod on the Family, which opens Sunday, would demonstrate marriage and family as a “rich and humanly fulfilling" experience.
“The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions," the Pope said. “There we are formed by the memory of past generations and we put down roots which enable us to go far."
The Synod on the Family goes from Oct. 4-25, and is the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world."
Looking out onto the darkened square filled with candlelight, the Pope reflected on the symbolism of the candle in the dark, in reference to the difficulties we face throughout our lives.
“What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness? Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome?"
“When life proves difficult and demanding, we can be tempted to step back, turn away and withdraw, perhaps even in the name of prudence and realism, and thus flee the responsibility of doing our part as best we can."
The Pope reflected on the story of the prophet Elijah who, the Old Testament recounts, fled out of fear on the mountain of Horeb. The scriptures recount that God came to him as he hid in a cave on the mountain.
“He would get his answer not in the great wind which shatters the rocks, nor in the earthquake nor even in the fire," the Pope said.
“God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear its still, small voice. It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe."
Pope Francis recalled the vigil held one year prior for the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. During that gathering, those present prayed for the Holy Spirit to inspire the Synod participants to listen to each other, and to keep their “gaze fixed on Jesus, the definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured."
“This evening, our prayer cannot be otherwise," the Pope said.
He cited the words of Patriarch Athenagoras, who said without the Holy Spirit, the Church is simply an organization, whose “authority becomes domination, mission becomes propaganda, worship becomes mystique, Christian life the morality of slaves."
The Pope appealed to the Synod participants to draw from the Church’s tradition in bringing “comfort and hope" to families today.
Jesus has his own experience within a family, like many others, for the first 30 years of his earthly life in an obscure town of the Roman Empire, the Pope recalled.
Pope Francis cited the example of Charles de Foucauld, Algerian founder of the Little Brothers of Jesus. An early 20th century martyr, declared Blessed in 2005, “Brother Charles" had abandoned a military career to explore a spirituality based on the Holy Family.
“Contemplating the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles realized how empty the desire for wealth and power really is," the Pope said.
The Blessed had wanted to be a hermit, but learned that love of God was fostered by human relationships. “For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbor, we are lifted up to God," he said.
“Through his fraternal closeness and his solidarity with the poor and the abandoned, he came to understand that it is they who evangelize us, they who help us to grow in humanity."
Pope Francis said it is necessary to follow Blessed Charles’ example and enter “into the mystery of the family of Nazareth."
Pope Francis called on the Synod to not only speak about the family but to learn from the family its dignity, strength, and value, notwithstanding its challenges.
He also reflected on the Church in terms of a family. As mother, it is “ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength."
In turn, the Church also demonstrates the “closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation."
The Pope also spoke of the Church in terms of brothers and sisters, who never view one another as “a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk."
For this reason, the Church appeals “to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts."
Pope Francis concluded: “This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women. She can credibly point them towards the goal and walk at their side, precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.
By Ann Schneible