Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2021 – Fr. Satish Joseph
This homily is composed using the Preparatory Documents for the Synod and from Pope Francis’s homily for the inauguration of the Synodal process.
“For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Does this sound like Church jargon to you? It might, but it is not. Pope Francis has convoked a Synod. The theme of the Synod is, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” This Synod is a two-year process. It was solemnly inaugurated by Pope Francis on the 9th – 10th of October 2021 in Rome and this weekend, each local Church is invited to be integral to the preparation for the Synod. The final stage of the Synod will be the celebration of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in October 2023, which will be followed by the implementation phase in every local Church.
The Synod is very significant because of where the Church is at this point in history. It is for this reason that today’s scripture reading diverged from the scripture readings for the 29th Sunday. The first reading from Deuteronomy tells us about a God who is close to us and whose will and commandments are placed in our hearts (Deut 30:14). In the second reading, God’s people are invited to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing” (Phil 2:2). In the gospel reading, we are promised the Advocate, who will teach us everything (Jn 14:26).
What are the objectives of the Synod? The main objectives that affect the form, the style, and the structure of the Church are:
- recalling how the Spirit has guided the Church’s journey through history and, today, calls us to be, together, witnesses of God’s love;
- living a participative and inclusive ecclesial process that offers everyone—especially those who for various reasons find themselves on the margins—the opportunity to express themselves and to be heard in order to contribute to the edification of the People of God;
- recognizing and appreciating the wealth and the variety of the gifts and charisms that the Spirit liberally bestows for the good of the community and the benefit of the entire human family;
- exploring participatory ways of exercising responsibility in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the effort to build a more beautiful and habitable world;
- examining how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel;
- accrediting the Christian community as a credible subject and reliable partner in paths of social dialogue, healing, reconciliation, inclusion and participation, the reconstruction of democracy, the promotion of fraternity and social friendship;
- regenerating relationships among members of Christian communities as well as between communities and other social groups, e.g., communities of believers of other denominations and religions, civil society organizations, popular movements, etc.
As is typical of Pope Francis, he begins by looking at Jesus. In his homily last Sunday, Pope Francis laid out three verbs that characterized the ministry of Jesus and three verbs that should characterize the Synod: encounter, listen, and discern. Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, walking together, encountering each other, listening to each other, and discerning the path forward.
The first is encounter. In the gospels, Pope Francis says, Jesus is completely present to every person who approaches him. He is open to encounter. Nothing leaves Jesus indifferent; everything is of concern to him. Encountering faces, meeting eyes, sharing each individual’s history. That is the closeness that Jesus embodies. He knows that someone’s life can be changed by a single encounter. Jesus did not hurry along, or keep looking at his watch to get the meeting over. He was always at the service of the person he was with, listening to what he or she had to say.
As we initiate this Synod, Pope Francis says, we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter. Every encounter – as we know – calls for openness, courage, and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the presence and the stories of others. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with him and with one another, without formalism or pretense, but simply as we are.
True encounter arises only from listening. Jesus simply listened to the people he met, for whatever amount of time it takes; he was not rushed. Most importantly, he was not afraid to listen with his heart and not just with his ears. This happens whenever we listen with the heart: people feel that they are being heard, not judged; they feel free to recount their own experiences and their spiritual journey.
Participating in a Synod means placing ourselves on the same path as the Word made flesh. It means following in his footsteps, listening to his word along with the words of others. It means discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us, to suggest fresh paths and new ways of speaking. It is a slow and perhaps tiring exercise, this learning to listen to one another – bishops, priests, religious and laity, all the baptized. 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.
Encounter and listening are not ends in themselves, leaving everything just as it was before. On the contrary, whenever we enter into dialogue, we allow ourselves to be challenged, to advance on a journey. And in the end, we are no longer the same; we are changed. In the gospels, those whom Jesus encountered and listened finally were transformed.
The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer, and in dialogue with the word of God. The Word of God guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit. These days, Jesus calls us to empty ourselves, to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time, and the direction in which he wants to lead us.
What are the next steps? The Preparatory Document of the Synod has generated questions that we will make available to you in the bulletin. We will also make it possible for you to submit your answers to the parish. In the Parish Pastoral Council, we will enter into discussions about these questions and along with your reflections, we will send the fruits of our discussion to the relevant people.
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