Pope Francis met briefly this morning with cardinals who had gathered for a meeting to reflect on the theme of the family, urging them to consider carefully both the Church's theology and pastoral practice.

"Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life," he said on Feb. 20.

"We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires."

After extending the prelates "a warm greeting" and thanking "the Lord who has given us these days of meeting and working together," Pope Francis issued a caution against "falling into 'causistry,'" or case-based reasoning in ethics.

The pontiff noted that such a narrow method would "inevitably diminish the quality of our work" considering "the family, the fundamental cell of society. From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family is then an image of the Triune God in the world."

Observing the current situation in which "today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated," the Pope called upon the cardinals to recognize and proclaim a more positive vision of the family.

"We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity."

"We are called to make known God's magnificent plan for the family and to help spouses joyfully experience this plan in their lives, as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties," he encouraged.

The prelates will also be addressed by the dean of the college of cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and be given an introduction to the theme of the family by Cardinal Walter Kasper.

The extraordinary synod of cardinals on Feb. 20 and 21 comes on the heels of a series of meetings of various cardinal groups gathered earlier this week to discuss Vatican city-state governance and economic issues. On Feb. 22, Pope Francis will create nineteen new cardinals, sixteen of voting age.

The soon-to-be cardinals are taking part in the extraordinary synod, whose theme of reflection on the family anticipates the ordinary synod to be held in October of 2014, with the same theme.