As you will no doubt be aware, over the past three weeks the fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been meeting in Rome. The Synod of Bishops “is a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world” (c. 342). It is their role to discuss specific questions, outlined in a document called the Instrumentum laboris or working document, but neither to resolve them, nor themselves issue decisions without the express permission of the Pope himself (c. 343). During this most recent meeting the delegates discussed the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.
This past week saw the anniversary of the death of the Venerable Servant of God, Pope Pius XII. His extraordinary pontificate, from 1939 to 1958, was a time of great renewal in the Church. In 1950, he defined the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady, and in under twenty years he produced some forty encyclical letters, amongst them the towering Mystici corporis, on the nature of the Church, and Mediator Dei, on the Sacred Liturgy, both of which contributed in a truly significant way to the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. These great achievements, however, were made in the context of great social upheaval. During his pontificate, Pius XII saw the rise of National Socialism and Fascism, the Second World War, and the rise of Communism. Yet despite this he remained unswerving in carrying out the mission of the Church entrusted to him, in fidelity to Christ, in fidelity to the truth, and with the true Christian charity that flows from the Heart of Christ alone.
Blessed John Henry Newman, whose feast is marked today, stands out as a singular example of holiness and virtue in the anglophone Church of the nineteenth century. His journey from the Church of England to the full communion of the Catholic Church is in a real sense an exterior sign of the interior conversion that, through prayer and study, he underwent throughout his entire life. This double-faceted approach is perhaps an interpretive key for us, who seek to grow in sanctification and grace, in the life of Christ found in His “one true fold”: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, united in faith and practice with Successor of Peter.