Earlier this year, bishops were encouraged to participate in the planning by consulting widely in their dioceses. This past week I submitted our report, which benefitted from the input from various consultative bodies of the archdiocese (the Priests’ Council, the Pastoral Council, the Women’s Committee), as well as from parishioners at large with the help of their pastors. This consultation, rather than a formal sociological study or a polling of public opinion, was about surfacing the perceptions of our people with the aim of discerning where God might be directing us today in the church in matters concerning family life and evangelization. The consultation was also meant to raise awareness of the importance of the theme of the synod: the vocation and mission of the family in the church and in the contemporary world. While the Synod Office in Rome prepared documentation for the consultation, it became clear that a more accessible approach was needed. To that end, we developed the following five questions to capture the synod’s major and essential concerns: In general, the responses to these questions suggest that the questions themselves were clear and important for the respondents. It would be difficult to report on the full range of responses here, but it is worth sharing some general comments about the responses grouped in three headings: 1) The value of family life; 2) The impact of the culture on families and 3) Some marital-familial situations that need specific attention by the church. First, clearly people appreciate their families as a gift and blessing. More specifically, the love, the connection, and the sense of belonging that the experience of family brings point to a gift of God. Even in difficult circumstances, that sense of gift endures. Family members can bring the best out of each other. Families are also the place where all learn how to live with one another and to forgive one another. Families can also provide a sense of security in a very uncertain world. Second, our American culture offers opportunities for families to grow and develop. Our stable political situation and our appreciation for individual freedom can create a space for families to develop in good directions. Economic opportunities enable the possibility for the material well-being of families. The American sense of fair play and the more recently emphasized value of tolerance enable a diversity of families to find a place in our society, which is particularly helpful to immigrants. Yet, there are many features of American culture in this historical moment that make genuine family life extraordinarily difficult and, at times, seemingly impossible. A pervasive materialism fuels a frantic consumerism. People are then defined — and they define themselves — in the measure that they can acquire things. This sets families, particularly young people, on a path of false expectations for happiness and personal fulfillment. Also, conflicting family schedules burdened by work, school and recreation commitments mean that many families have few common meals. One particularly pernicious dynamic is the pattern of linking consumption (for a profit motive) with sexuality that generates the plague of pornography with its extraordinarily damaging consequences for how people view each other and relate to each other and even see themselves. Finally, respondents also identified a number of marital-familial situations that present both a human challenge and a spiritual-pastoral challenge, which call for attention and some form of pastoral care or service. These include marriages that are in trouble or in the process of unraveling, couples who are separated, those who are divorced but not remarried, those who are divorced and remarried either with or without a declaration of nullity (popularly described as an “annulment”), infertile spouses, families headed by a single parent, singles who may live in a household or on their own, the widowed who may live in a household or alone, blended families that result from previous marriages, couples who cohabitate as a prelude to marriage or as an experimental or trial marriage or as a long-term arrangement and samesex partners forming families with or without children. They also identified some graced and special challenges that need the church’s support, such as aged parents who add a third generation to households and who may suffer physical ailments or physical-mental impairment, family members with disabilities either physical or developmental, who selfidentify as gay, lesbian or transgender, who are addicted either to chemicals, such as drugs and alcohol, or to specific behaviors, who are the chronically ill or suffer from mental illness, who are victims of physical or sexual abuse and those who are alienated from other members of the family. The emotional strength of the responses — whatever form they took — to the consultation demonstrates that the Holy Father has identified a vitally important set of concerns in naming family life as the theme of two synods. There are many concerns that cross over purely human arenas, such as the impact of popular culture and economics on families, to embrace deep spiritual questions about our journey of authentic discipleship in the context of family life. People are rightly concerned about the quality of family life that is affected by an often hostile culture. At the same time, they look to the church to take initiative and be supportive of those who struggle in many different ways. No matter how they responded to the consultation, everyone placed great importance and great hope in family life. That recognition may shape the crucial dynamic of the synod and the postsynod period. It stems from a sense — not always explicit but certainly pervasive — that God has done great things in and through our families and that God wants to bring them forward. At the same time, the energy witnessed in the consultation process clearly demonstrates the level of excitement that the Holy Spirit is guiding the church in the new direction charted by the Holy Father. That alone should prompt in those preparing for the synod a boldness and fresh courage to take up these serious pastoral issues with candor and a sense of responsibility.