On Sunday, the 10th of October 2021, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, set us all off together on a long journey of reflection and consultation, leading up to the 2023 Synod of bishops. It was to be a journey of encounter, of listening to each other, a journey, a walking together, during which we ask some important questions about ourselves and how we make our choices in life.
The Holy Father on that day in October at Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, spoke beautifully of the Gospels which so often portray Jesus himself on a journey, a journey in which he walks alongside people and listens to their questions and the concerns and the anxieties they feel in their hearts.
In those stories, Jesus shows us he is found not so much in neat and orderly places, but rather he walks with people, meeting them where they so often are, on the often rocky roads of life. The Gospels show Jesus in these stories, listening intently to those he meets, to their questions and their woundedness, finally helping those he encounters to make sense of their lives, bringing them healing and helping them make the important difficult choices they have to make on their lives’ journey.
To encounter people and to really carefully to what they say, we need to ask ourselves whether we are good listeners. Do we allow the people we meet to tell us the stories they wish to tell, to walk with them in faith through the difficulties of their lives, listening intently, but never hindering or rejecting or judging them.
Pope Francis calls this walking together a ‘synodal process’. And for us to share in this Synodal Process, of ‘walking together’, means following in the Lord’s footsteps, listening to His Word, alongside the words and stories of others. It also means discovering, sometimes with amazement what the Holy Spirit can surprise us with, for example when the Spirit suggests fresh paths and new ideas to help us solve our problems.
In some parts of the world this idea of ‘synodality’ has not been taken up the way that Pope Francis intended. In some places, synodality might be understood like people working together like a parliament, thinking about and trying to decide very important things, like the faith of the Church which is sacred and unchangeable. This is perhaps a valuable lesson for us, because the genuine synodal process is a kind of spiritual discernment in the Church that leads us to adoration of God in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God. A genuine Synodal walking together always ends up in unity among those involved, not chaos.
God’s holy Word in the Scriptures summons us to choose that which is good for us, and that which God wants for us and helps bring light, not darkness and confusion. This stops the Synod becoming as Pope Francis says, simply ‘a church convention or a study group or a political gathering or a parliament instead of a process of healing guided by the Holy Spirit’.
And here the Holy Father makes a great point. Because in today’s Church there is much need for healing; healing of our individual wounds, healing of the terrible wounds of the church inflicted by evil people like child abuse and the abuse of the very vulnerable. We also all have bad memories from the past that need to be healed as well as our own and others’ sinfulness, which impede the working of the Gospel among us. There is not one of us that is left untouched and free from wounds.
And so brothers and sisters, in this coming year between Christmas and the month of August, Pope Francis asks us to consult with each other, in fact with everyone; whether they are regular practising Catholics, or resting or lapsed Catholics, whether they are people even outside the Church, or people disenchanted with the Church. The Pope wants to ask us all what we really feel. He wants us to walk, and learn, and heal together. In other words, to prepare the way to come back to Christ and to walk with him freely again in his Holy Catholic Church.
Of course, there are many of us who are wounded in our society today even in our own country, which though relatively rich still bears the scars of poverty, and estrangement, and the wounds shown up by our own sins. We can’t pretend they don’t exist: they do! Many among us feel judged and unworthy and unfairly burdened and have such low self-esteem because of the burdens we carry.
The Holy Father wants to know about these from everyone. Exposing our wounds and hurts is like lancing a boil. Once the boil is lanced and the infection is removed, the healing starts. And we return to the Lord with all our hearts, mourning and weeping rejoicing that we are once again made whole.
Finally, a great plea from my heart as your bishop rpresenting `Pope `Francis here in our local Church. May I appeal to you to take paret in this great consultation when you are invited. Please keep in touch with the diocesan website on Synodality: www.dunkelddiocese.org.uk/synodality in which all the material, questionnaires, information, links etc will be added.
If you do not have the internet, do not worry, your parish will be supplied with papers questionnaires at various times. Please be honest and genuine in your responses. They will only help the pope and the Synod of Bishops if you really say what you feel. Express your joys and consolations of your faith also. And remember the Pope invites all of you to take part: young and old; married and single; men and women and children; religious and preists; organisations and Catholic institutions in the diocese; those who are practicing and those who are lapsed – even those who are not of our Faith but who might like to contribute to our walking together. We have seven months from after Christmas to do our bit and help the Holy Father discover what really makes us tick, and really turns us off.
Pope Francis has asked me to ask you for help! Remember this is not a test. It is anonymous. You do not have to perform well – or perform at all – but he wants to know what do you really feel, so that walking together in synodality, we can assist each other on our respective journeys through life and what part the Church plays in it.