At our recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, Md., the bishops from the United States who participated in the recent Extraordinary Synod on the pastoral challenges of the family reported on their experiences. One of them, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, spoke of a “tale of two synods.” By this he meant that the synod as reported and covered by much of the media did not match his own experience at the synod. He jokingly stated that he must have been at the wrong synod!

I would like to pick up on this theme and share with all of you what seems to have been missed in much of the reporting on the synod. If we were to rely strictly on the reporting of the synod in much, if not most, of the media, we would have come to the conclusion that the synod was about battles among the bishops from throughout the word over the issues of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried and the Church’s response to persons with homosexual tendencies.

But a careful reading of the final report or “relatio” would tell a very different story. The synod fathers discussed many issues relating to the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization. Especially important for us Americans to understand is that the issues and challenges we face here are very different from those experienced in other parts of the world. Our challenges are no more important than theirs are.

The final report I refer to is actually filled with many very encouraging and uplifting reflections on the importance of marriage and family life in our world today. Married couples and families should take great strength and encouragement from the pastors of the Church on this extremely important topic.

For example, more than once the synod fathers express gratitude and encouragement to the many families throughout the world who have, through struggles and difficult times, remained faithful to one another and the marital covenant. “With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer. In fact, they witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of an indissoluble marriage while always remaining faithful to each other.” (Relatio Synodi, 23)

I point this out because many married couples have expressed some discouragement to me in the way the synod was being reported to them in much of the media. Many of these couples have struggled hard, sometimes bearing heavy crosses, to remain faithful to the promises made on the day of their wedding.

Certainly there are many families and marriages that have struggled and who have been wounded by hardships of many kinds. Not a small number of these have ended, sadly, in separation and/or divorce. The hurt and disillusionment that has resulted and the Church’s pastoral care for these wounded families must in no way be minimized. In fact the synod was directed to a large extent to find ways to reach out and bring healing to them. But we must not forget and minimize the heroic witness of so many other families who have managed to remain intact amid great struggles themselves.

The final report of the synod also highlights some of the most beautiful teachings we have received over these intervening years since the Second Vatican Council. Beginning with Vatican II’s pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, which beautifully described marriage as a “community of life and love” through some of the more recent teachings of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the final report of the synod, far from diminishing the beauty and truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage, lifts it up for us to appreciate anew.

Reference to Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae upholds the inseparable union between unitive and procreative meaning of the sexual union of a man and a woman in marriage. St. John Paul II’s beautiful apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio also receives prominent attention. Pope Benedict’s teaching in Deus Caritas Est is highlighted as well as the teaching of Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei.

I say this to allay any fears (or expectations) that the Church is preparing to change any of her teaching, drawn from Sacred Scripture and Tradition, on the nature of marriage as it comes from hand of the Creator. In particular, expect no changes with regard to the indissolubility of marriage, the moral wrongness of artificial contraception and sexual activity outside of marriage, and the nature of marriage as requiring the complementary of the sexes, i.e. as being always and forevermore between one man and one woman.

Certainly there are serious pastoral challenges facing the Church as she seeks to minister to the reality of marriage and family life as we find it in the world today. The ideal of marriage is not always realized, and the Church does not seek to “stick her head in the sand” and not acknowledge and face these realities with a loving heart. Our pastoral response to these realities and challenges will be the subject of our preparations for next year’s synod as a follow up to the one just completed. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, one thing has become clear to me. We are, to a large extent, reaping the fruit of 50 or 60 years of inadequate and failed efforts to teach clearly on the nature, meaning and purpose of marriage. I will therefore begin, in these columns, a detailed catechesis on marriage and family drawn from the rich and beautiful teachings of Christ and his Church.

May the Holy Spirit guide us all as we seek to build up the family, the “domestic Church.”