For a Synodal Church
Homily given at st teresa’s pro-cathedral, karori & Cathedral of the Holy spirit, Palmerston North
Cardinal John Dew
Six years ago today I heard Pope Francis say something I have never forgotten and hope I will never forget. On 17th October 2015 I was in Rome for the second session of the Synod on the Family, during the three weeks it happened to be the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Synod of bishops. The officials kept talking all week about the “Celebration” which was to take place. I remember a bishop from England saying, “A celebration! There won’t be a vase of flowers or a gin and tonic in sight, it’ll just be a series of speeches.” And it was!
However, one of the talks was by Pope Francis. I remember two things from his speech.
The first was “The only authority we have is the authority of service.” I have repeated it many many times and I will never forget him saying those words.
The second was, “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”
The two brothers in today’s Gospel learnt a real lesson about service, the sons of Zebedee had asked Jesus for the best seats at the banquet in the Kingdom ……the brothers and the rest of the disciples had completely missed what Jesus had been saying; they had totally missed him talking about his coming suffering and death, even though it was the third time he spoke about it! This led Jesus to talk to them all about service; so he said, “Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, anyone who wants to be first must be your slave.”
Like Jesus, Pope Francis reminds us of the same thing, “The only authority we have is the authority of service.”
It’s hard to be succinct and to put into a homily what ‘Synodality’ is, but, in a nutshell, it is about all members of the Church, all of us, walking the path of life together, truly listening to and being of service to one another.
This particular Synod we are preparing for is about the Church and the kind of Church we imagine and want for the future. It is not a Church Pope Francis has come up with! No, this vision of Church we’re talking about is what the Second Vatican Council recovered over fifty years ago. The document we have been given to help us prepare for the Synod invites everyone, all the baptized, to imagine, to dream what the future of the Church can be.
We hear a great deal in the Church about service.
Every Holy Thursday we hear the Gospel story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, we act it out and hear Jesus saying, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done for you.”
Those of us who are ordained priests are ordained deacons first, the role of a deacon is to be of service. The day our class were ordained deacons in 1975 one of the priests who taught us said to us; “Remember, once a deacon, always a deacon.” In other words, we are always to be in the service of others. Popes, bishops, priests, deacons are always to serve, as are all the baptized because the Gospel is for all of us.
Pope Francis is determined that this Synod will help to renew the Church and will re-capture the vision of the Second Vatican Council. A key way he is doing this is by reminding us that, The only authority any of us have, is the authority of service.”
I personally have been present at seven Synods in Rome and participated in three local Synods in the Archdiocese of Wellington. This one “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” is very different. We are all invited to take part in this two-year process from today until October 2023. Last week in Rome the Holy Father asked, “Are you prepared to take part in the adventure of this journey?”
Let’s make it an adventure:
- walking together with faith;
- listening to each other (as Francis put it, “How good is the hearing of your heart?”);
- engaging in a process of healing guided by the Holy Spirit;
- supporting one another, looking for new paths and new ways of speaking.
None of us should be like Zebedee’s sons of today’s Gospel looking for the best places – in the Kingdom or in the Church today. “Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant; anyone who wants to be first must be your slave.”
This Synod’s title includes three key words : ‘Communion’, ‘Participation’ and ‘Mission’. Those words give a glimpse of what Synodality means and what the Church is to be.
- COMMUNION…. Even our God is a communion! The word emphasises the deep bond we share in the love and the unity of the Trinity. Through our Baptism we share a common ‘instinct’ of faith and every one of us has a role to play in together discerning, working out and living God’s will for us.
- PARTICIPATION…. stresses that we all have gifts, a rich diversity of gifts, to share. All of us are called together to pray, to listen, to think about, to dialogue, to discern and to be involved in pastoral decision-making. Participation also means that we make every effort to bring in and listen to those who feel excluded.
- MISSION………. Which highlights the fact that we can never be centred on ourselves. If we are Catholic Christians we will be outwardly focused. We exist to take the Good News out to everyone. This two-year process is to help is to understand and live out the fact that the Church does not exist for itself but in service to the coming of God’s kingdom.
Do you want to be part of this great adventure? Read, listen, share, dialogue with others, have your say in the consultation process beginning today.
Watching Pope Francis at Synods and listening to him, one hears over and over, “speak with boldness; don’t be afraid; trust in the Holy Spirit who guides us.”
Trust in God, move forward with courage, build unity through discernment, discover and help bring about God’s dream for us, be positive and enthusiastic. Take seriously that word ‘enthusiasm’ which means ‘to be filled with God!’
And filled with God, we cannot go wrong.
You can listen to Cardinal John’s Homily at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, 17 October 2021 above.