How then, do we hear Pope Francis’s prophetic call to be open to the God of surprises while still affirming the timeless truths of the faith? How do we steer the course between legalism and license, between eternal truths and their merciful application for the cure of souls? The New Testament shows the way, and in his final speech to the synod Pope Francis not only presented the problem but also the solution.
St. Peter’s revolutionary vision was confirmed and validated by the Council of Jerusalem—the gathering of the apostles. Through conflict and misunderstandings, the apostles came to understand the meaning of St Peter’s vision and commissioned him to preach to the Jews and authorized St. Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
Pope Francis reaffirms this same truth, that the radical vision for change cannot come to Peter alone, but to Peter working in union with the bishops of the church. So in his final speech to the synod, Pope Francis said, “The Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the gospel of Christ, and to the tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church.”
The dramatic and sometimes conflicting Synod on the Family is exactly the way we move forward in the service of Christ to discern the Spirit’s guidance. In the turmoil of the last two weeks, we have heard the echo of Peter and the apostles themselves, struggling to reconcile God’s surprises with their understanding of the law.