930: To be the Church means we are on the path together.
Day 930: Sunday, October 2, 2022
To be the Church means we are on the path together.
On Sunday morning, in the town of Frascati, in the hills and vineyards to the south-east of Rome, about thirty people will gather for mass. They have been in intensive discussions with one another for about a week.
The people at mass this morning come from all around the world. Some are bishops. Some are theologians and pastoral workers. There are women as well as men. They represent the local churches of Africa, Latin America, Asia, Oceania, North America and Europe.
The purpose of the meeting is quite simple: the participants have come together to learn what their fellow Catholics are thinking all around the world.
In October of next year, Pope Francis will gather with about 250 people (mostly bishops but others as well) to reflect on the Church as a community that has been in dialogue with itself in the hope of serving the Gospel better.
The Pope has called for a synod in Rome on the theme of the Church’s synodality itself. The word “synod” comes from Greek, synodos. It means “to be on the path together” (syn-hodos). To be the Church means we are on the path together.
When Pope Francis says that we must be a synodal Church, he means we need to listen. Every bishop in the world has been asked to establish a listening process in his diocese so that the concerns and hopes of the people of the local churches can be heard.
The purpose of the meeting this past week in Frascati is to bring representatives from the local churches of Asia, Latin America, Africa, Oceania, Europe and North America together so they might learn what is being said by their fellow Catholics around the world. The thirty participants have created a document summarizing major themes that have come to the surface on each continent.
The Pope wants us here in the Diocese of Santa Rosa study this document in order to fine-tune our own reflections about ourselves and our hopes for the future in light of what Catholics are saying in Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro, Manila and Paderborn, Suva and Ciudad Juarez. When the bishops gather in Rome next year for the synod, Francis wants them to be rooted in their local churches but also aware of the concerns of local churches around the world.
Ever since he became the bishop of Rome in 2013, Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of discernment for the Church. A synodal Church is a community that is on the path, discerning the future, together.
Especially during Easter Season, I am fond of saying that faith means learning how to see. This is another way of saying that the life of faith requires us to practice the spiritual art of discernment. We need to learn how to see what justice looks like. We need to learn how to see what hope looks like. Together, we must accompany one another as we learn how to see the future God is preparing for the Church and, of course, the future He is preparing for the world.
The Pope likes to say that ideas can be debated; reality, as it is constantly emerging before us, can only be discerned. This is a difficult teaching for managerial types who want to believe that every problem has a technical solution. “Just take a look,” they tell us, “then figure it out and fix it.” The real world is more intractable but also more mysterious than the managerial types can fathom.
Therefore, in the Church, we need to remind one another of the value of what the Pope calls “incomplete thinking.” We must not pretend that we have all the answers and yet we must act. Welcoming God’s future for us takes humility and faith, but also discernment.
The psalm for this morning’s mass was sung, long ago, in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. In singing the psalm, the people recalled a difficult, fear-filled time in their life “on the road together,”
Oh, that today you would hear his voice: "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works."
In the story of the Exodus, the people had witnessed the great works of the Lord. They had seen how He had raised up Moses to lead them to freedom and how He had sent the plagues on the Egyptian slavedrivers. They had witnessed the parting of the waters as they escaped Pharoah’s army in crossing the Red Sea.
Then, in the desert, in the heat of the day and in their hunger, the people began to complain to Moses, saying that God had led them all this way only to trick them.
They said: The God of Abraham has led His people into the desert only that He might abandon us and leave us to die.
This is the fundamental sin: God is not to be trusted. This is what Jesus called, “a sin against the Holy Spirit.”
A truly synodal Church must never forget how we hardened our hearts “at Meribah and Massah in the desert.” We need to join our voices with the voices of the Jewish people as they sang in Solomon’s temple long ago and as they sing in synagogues today. We need to affirm to one another and to a despairing world that God has not brought us on this long journey through this desert only to abandon us.
As in the ancient days of Moses, God continues to accompany His people. We are a synodal Church, on the road together.
- Jim Fredericks