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Synod Preparatory Document

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October 21, 2021

The Preparatory Document explores two “images” from Scripture to inspire our journey of building a synodal church.

The first image is Jesus, the Crowd, the ApostlesThe second is A Double Dynamic of Conversion, looking at the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). You can read the reflection’s on both Scriptures from the Preparatory Document Below.

From the Preparatory Document

III. Listening to the Scriptures

16. The Spirit of God, who illuminates and vivifies this “journeying together” of the Churches, is the same Spirit who works in the mission of Jesus, promised to the Apostles and to the generations of disciples who hear God’s Word and put it into practice. The Spirit, according to the Lord’s promise, does not limit himself to confirming the continuity of the Gospel of Jesus, but will illuminate the ever-new depths of his Revelation and inspire the decisions necessary to sustain the Church’s journey (cf. Jn 14:25–26; 15:26–27; 16:12–15). It is, therefore, appropriate that our journey of building a synodal Church be inspired by two “images” from Scripture. One emerges in the representation of the “community scene” that constantly accompanies the journey of evangelization; the other refers to the experience of the Spirit in which Peter and the early community recognize the risk of placing unjustified limits on faith sharing. The synodal experience of journeying together, following the Lord and in obedience to the Spirit, will be able to receive decisive inspiration from meditation on these two traits of revelation.

Image 1: Jesus, the Crowd, the Apostles

17. An original scene appears, in its fundamental structure, as the constant of the way in which Jesus reveals himself throughout the Gospel, as he announces the coming of the Kingdom of God. Essentially, three actors (plus one) are involved. The first, of course, is Jesus, the absolute protagonist who takes the initiative, sowing the words and signs of the coming of the Kingdom without “showing partiality” (cf. Acts 10:34). In various ways, Jesus pays special attention to those who are “separated” from God and those “abandoned” by the community (the sinners and the poor, in gospel language). Through his words and actions, he offers liberation from evil and conversion to hope, in the name of God the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even in the diversity of the Lord’s calls, their receptive responses, the common trait is that faith always emerges as a valuing of people: their plea is heard, their difficulty is helped, their availability is appreciated, their dignity is confirmed by God’s gaze and restored to the community’s recognition.

18. In fact, the work of evangelization and the message of salvation would not be comprehensible without Jesus’ constant openness to the widest possible audience, which the Gospels refer to as the crowd, that is, all the people who follow him along the path, and at times even pursue him in the hope of a sign and a word of salvation: this is the second actor on the scene of Revelation. The proclamation of the Gospel is not addressed only to an enlightened or chosen few. Jesus’ interlocutor is the “people” of ordinary life, the “everyone” of the human condition, whom he puts directly in contact with God’s gift and the call to salvation. In a way that surprises and sometimes scandalizes the witnesses, Jesus accepts as interlocutors all those who emerge from the crowd: he listens to the impassioned remonstrances of the Canaanite woman (cf. Mt 15:21–28), who cannot accept being excluded from the blessing he brings; he allows himself to dialogue with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:1–42), despite her condition as a socially and religiously compromised woman; he solicits the free and grateful act of faith of the man born blind (cf. Jn 9), whom official religion had dismissed as outside the perimeter of grace.

19. Some follow Jesus more explicitly, experiencing the fidelity of discipleship, while others are invited to return to their ordinary lives: yet all testify to the power of the faith that has saved them (cf. Mt 15:28). Among those who follow Jesus, the figure of the apostles, whom he himself calls from the beginning, having given them the task of mediating authoritatively the crowd’s relationship with Revelation and with the coming of God’s Kingdom, clearly becomes prominent.  The third actor’s entrance on the scene occurs not thanks to a cure or a conversion, but because it coincides with Jesus’ call. The election of the apostles is not the privilege of an exclusive position of power and separation but the grace of an inclusive ministry of blessing and fellowship. Thanks to the gift of the Spirit of the Risen Lord, they are to guard the place of Jesus, without replacing him: not to put filters on his presence, but to make it easy to encounter him.

20. Jesus, the crowd in its diversity, the apostles: this is the imagery and the mystery that must be constantly contemplated and explored in depth so that the Church may increasingly become what she is. None of the three actors can leave the scene. If Jesus is absent, and someone else takes his place, the Church then becomes a contract between the apostles and the crowd and whose dialogue will end up following the plot of the political game. Without the apostles, authorized by Jesus and instructed by the Spirit, the relationship with the evangelical truth is broken, and the crowd, whether it accepts or rejects Jesus, remains exposed to a myth or an ideology about him. Without the crowd, the apostles’ relationship with Jesus becomes corrupted into a sectarian and self-referential form of religion, and evangelization, which emanates from the direct self-revelation that God addresses personally to all, offering His salvation, loses its light.

21. Then, there is the “extra” actor, the antagonist, who brings to the scene the diabolical separation of the other three. Faced with the perturbing prospect of the cross, there are disciples who leave and mood-changing crowds. The insidiousness that divides—and, thus, thwarts a common path—manifests itself indifferently in the forms of religious rigor, of moral injunction that presents itself as more demanding than that of Jesus, and of the seduction of a worldly political wisdom that claims to be more effective than a discernment of spirits. In order to escape the deceptions of the “fourth actor,” continuous conversion is necessary. Emblematic in this regard is the episode of the centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10), the antecedent of that “Council” of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15) which constitutes a crucial reference point for a synodal Church.

Image 2: A Double Dynamic of Conversion: Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10)

22. The episode narrates, first of all, the conversion of Cornelius, who even receives a sort of annunciation. Cornelius is a pagan, presumably Roman, a centurion (a low-ranking officer) in the army of occupation, who practices a profession based on violence and abuse. Yet, he is dedicated to prayer and almsgiving, that is, he cultivates a relationship with God and cares for his neighbor. It is precisely in his home that the angel surprisingly enters, calls him by name, and exhorts him to send—the verb of mission! —his servants to Jaffa to call—the verb of vocation! —Peter. The narrative then becomes that of the conversion of the latter, who, on that same day, received a vision in which a voice ordered him to kill and eat animals, some of which were unclean. His response is decisive: “By no means, Lord” (Acts 10:14). He recognizes that it is the Lord who is speaking to him, but he emphatically refuses, because that order demolishes precepts of the Torah that are inalienable for his religious identity, and which express a way of understanding election as a difference that entails separation and exclusion from other peoples.

23. The apostle remains deeply disturbed and, while he is wondering about the meaning of what has happened, men sent by Cornelius arrive and the Spirit indicates to him that they are his envoys. Peter responds to them with words that recall those of Jesus in the Garden: “I am the one you are looking for” (Acts 10:21). This is a true and proper conversion, the painful and immensely fruitful passage of leaving one’s own cultural and religious categories: Peter accepts to eat with pagans the food he had always considered forbidden, recognizing it as an instrument of life and communion with God and with others. It is in the encounter with people, welcoming them, journeying with them, and entering their homes, that he realizes the meaning of his vision: no human being is unworthy in the eyes of God, and the difference established by election does not imply exclusive preference but service and witnessing of a universal breadth.

24. Both Cornelius and Peter involve other people in their journey of conversion, making them companions in their journey. The apostolic action accomplishes God’s will by creating community, breaking down barriers, and promoting encounters. The word plays a central role in the encounter between the two protagonists. Cornelius begins by sharing his experience. Peter listens to him and then speaks, reporting in turn what has happened to him and testifying to the closeness of the Lord, who goes out to meet people individually to free them from what makes them prisoners of evil and mortifies humanity (cf. Acts 10:38). This form of communicating is similar to the one Peter will adopt in Jerusalem when the circumcised believers criticize him, accusing him of having broken the traditional norms, on which all their attention seems to be focused, while disregarding the outpouring of the Spirit: “You entered the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:3). At that moment of conflict, Peter reports what happened to him and his reactions of bewilderment, incomprehension, and resistance. Precisely this will help his interlocutors, initially aggressive and refractory, to listen and accept what has happened. Scripture will help to interpret the meaning, just as it also will at the “Council” of Jerusalem, in a process of discernment that consists of listening together to the Spirit.

Acts 10

Short Scripture Verses

The work of the Spirit in this synodal process is central to our journey. As a Diocese, we are consecrated the the Holy Spirit and you can access our Prayer of Consecration below as another way to join in prayer at this time.

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