A listening church
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY, October 17, 2021:
“Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated earlier this month, is one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church. One of the innovations in the leadership of the Order he founded more than 800 years ago is that the Franciscans have no religious superiors. Instead, those who are elected to roles of leadership are referred to as ministers and guardians. Why? Because St. Francis believed that the only true superior of his community was the Holy Spirit. And so, the ultimate ruling body of the Franciscans are the brothers themselves, when they come together intentionally in prayer, when they invoke the Holy Spirit and invite Him to be in their midst to lead, shape, and direct their conversations and their decisions. Those who are ministers and guardians are there to carry those decisions forward in between their gatherings of the fraternity.
I was thinking of that image from the Franciscans as we begin today this Synod on Synodality. I don’t know how many you are aware of this Synod – convened last week by Pope Francis and engaging the church throughout the world for the next few years – but the hope is that just like that image from the Franciscans, we will all come together as a community of believers, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to share our hopes and dreams about the future of the Church.
The word “synod” comes from two Greek words, syn which means “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”. So a synod is a coming together or a journeying together. Spending some time together along the way. The Synod of Bishops was first instituted by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1965 following the Second Vatican Council. The Pope did this to keep alive the spirit of the Council and to help the church engage the signs of the times in the light of faith, so that the Church might always be attentive to the needs of all, so that, sharing in their grief and pain, their joys and hope, we may continue to proclaim the Good News of salvation. These synods have taken place every few years since 1965 and tackled topics like vocations and the priesthood, evangelization, the Eucharist, the missions, and most recently, in 2018 youth and the family.
This Synod which we begin today has a more ambitious goal than any before it. It is called the Synod on Synodality because Pope Francis hopes that the whole church will not merely have a brief experience of this type of journeying together, but that we will in fact become a synodal church – a church that listens. Pope Francis said, “Synodality is an expression of the Church’s style. The word ‘synod’ says it all: it means ‘journeying together’. And the movement is the fruit of docility to the Holy Spirit, who directs this history, in which all have a part to play. Dear brothers and sisters, may this Synod be a true season of the Spirit! For we need the Spirit, the ever new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy.”
If you are wondering what this journeying together could look like then there’s no better examples that our gospel passages both last week and this week. In both of these passages we see synodality at work. Recall last week we had the story of the rich young man who wanted to know what it would take to gain eternal life. Jesus in this encounter didn’t merely give the man list of tasks to perform, but so importantly, Jesus listened to him, allowed the man to speak about his own circumstance. He truly heard him.
This week we have another and perhaps the best example of synodality from Jesus – this literal walking together along the road to Emmaus. Let’s remember the scene. These two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways. They are disillusioned and disappointed and believe that all is lost. And then Jesus joins them as they walk away. Notice what Jesus does and doesn’t do. He doesn’t turn them around. He doesn’t tell them they’re wrong. He doesn’t chastise them for their lack of belief. Jesus simply says, “What are you talking about?” and He walks with them and He listens to them. It is only then that He brings the power of Scripture and Sacrament and that makes all the difference. This is what synodality is. This is what a synodal church can look like.
Pope Francis said, “The experience of encounter changes us and it suggests new ways we never thought of taking. This is how God so often points out new paths. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with Him and with one another.”
There could not be a better time in our world and in our church for us to embrace this synodality from the Vatican right down to each and every parish. We live in a world that does not listen to each other. Instead, we are all held captive in our camps, in our tribes, in our politics, in our anger; and all we want to do is to tell everyone else why they are wrong. We have reached a point where we no longer see each other as sister and brother – we only see people as “other.”
Pope Francis said, “Participating in a synod means taking the same path as the Word made flesh: following in His footsteps, listening to His word and the words of others, discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us with fresh paths and new ways of speaking.”
A simpler way of saying it is this – Jesus wants to walk with us on our journey. Whether we are journeying towards Him or away from Him; He comes up along side and simply asks us, “What are you talking about?” And Jesus can’t wait to patiently listen to our answer.
Imagine how things could look in our world and in our church, if we simply stopped and listened – truly listened to the joys and hopes, to the grief and pain of one another – and if we walked along together with Jesus and His Holy Spirit at the heart. This is what the Synod on Synodality hopes to accomplish for us. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to hear about and learn about this process. There will be opportunities for us to come together and to listen to one another. Let us embrace this incredibly moment in the life of the church, and we too might say with the disciples, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us along the way?”
A final quote from the Holy Father, “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us listen to one another.”
"Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
May the Lord give you peace.
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