While Synods of Bishops have been frequent throughout the centuries, the Second Vatican Council wished to make them something regular in the life of the Church. Periodically (every two or three years), bishops from each country or region, chosen by their fellow-bishops of the area, meet together in a Synod, along with the Pope, so as to study some important topic of church life and concern (Family, Formation of Priests, Evangelization, Penance...). Each makes his contribution with the fullest freedom. After the Synod, the Pope usually publishes an Apostolic Exhortation, putting together the richness of ecclesial wisdom thus brought to light: cf. Familiaris Consortio (1981) on marriage and family life, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984) on the sacrament of Penance, Christifideles Laici (1988) on lay people, etc.
'State in life' in secular language usually refers to the type of job or work each person has, and to whether or not he or she is married or single, etc. For a Christian the term should have a much richer meaning, for it implies a position in life which a person holds not by accident or even by simple personal preference, but essentially by a divine choice, within a plan of love drawn up by God.
In the early Church the conviction was universal that to be a Christian was to be called to holiness, and that this was to be achieved there wherever each one was already living and working: "Every one should remain in the state in which he was called" (1 Cor 7:20).
Under the title of "who belongs to the Catholic Church?", the new Catechism notes that fullness of Catholic communion depends on maintaining "the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion" (no. 836).
The Second Vatican Council was aimed at formulating principles for the renewal of ecclesial life in all its aspects. More than thirty years later, varying evaluations of the results are made. Some persons, perhaps feeling that renewal was a dangerous idea in itself, hold that in any case it went off the tracks from the start. Others think that it ran into too much entrenched opposition from conservative forces, and is now largely dead-ended, an ideal or a dream they no longer really believe in. For others again, it remains a program of hope, which is still being attempted or needs to be attempted. Pope John Paul II is evidently one of these; he is a firm believer in renewal and, as I see his ministry, it is being constantly spent in seeking to bring it about.