Pope Francis announced a two-year process of reflection beginning in Rome Oct. 10, 2021, leading up to a meeting of the Synod of Bishops to take place in October 2023. He announced that first there would be a diocesan phase of reflection between now and April, then a national phase, then a regional phase and finally the meeting in Rome.
The diocesan phase was to open with a special Mass in every cathedral on Oct. 17 — so here we are. The word "synod" means "journey together.” The idea is to help us be more inclusive in how we listen and discern our way forward as Church, with special attention paid to those on the margins whose concerns and perspective are so often overlooked. The three touchstones of this process are communion, participation and mission.
Communion: unity amid diversity, which finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Blessed Trinity. Pope Francis writes, "It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit. Together we are inspired by listening to the Word of God, through the living Tradition of the Church and grounded in the faith that we share." Therefore, he says, we all have a role — not just the priests and theologians — "we all have a role to play in discerning and living out God's call for his people."
Participation builds on communion and seeks the involvement of everyone in this process of deep, respectful listening to each other. The idea is that in this way, "we create space for us to hear the Holy Spirit together" and thus get a sense of the direction the Church should take at this moment in history. Pope Francis writes: "In a synodal Church, the whole community" — laity, consecrated and ordained — "in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God's will."
Through journeying together, we become "a leaven at the service of the coming of God's kingdom."
Journeying together requires that we really try to include those who feel excluded. Who are those people in today's world? How about those who lack legal status in our country? Or elderly people abandoned in our nursing homes? How about people living in crime-ridden neighborhoods? Who are the people who feel excluded in today's Church? How about people who experience same-sex attraction? Or people who live together outside of marriage? How about those who feel wounded by something someone from the Church said or did in the past? How can we journey with people who, for whatever reason, feel pushed to the periphery in the Church and in society? There's a lot to learn from each other.
Mission: Then once we have a shared sense of direction, the Holy Spirit leads us forth to share the love of God with the whole human family and especially those who live on what Pope Francis calls "the spiritual, social, economic, political, geographical and existential peripheries of our world." Through journeying together, we become "a leaven at the service of the coming of God's kingdom."
In today's Gospel, James and John ask Jesus for the top positions in his kingdom, to sit at his right and at his left when he comes into his glory. Jesus confronts their selfish ambition head-on, insisting that self-promotion will get you nowhere in the kingdom of God where greatness is not measured by rank or position. The greatest people in heaven are those who — like Jesus — made themselves "the slaves of all" and gave their lives "as a ransom for many."
Ah, the glory of downward mobility, the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ. And isn't that at the heart of what Pope Francis is asking for today? Truth is horizontal as well as vertical, and it takes humility to listen, to truly listen to the lived experience of those whose perspective on things is very different from our own, including within our own families. So let us pray that through this experience, we will become a more vibrant Church, characterized by communion, participation and mission as we journey together, reflecting on what God is asking of us today.
This column originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Arkansas Catholic. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 17, 2021, at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.
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