Video of Diocesan Opening of the Synodal Process
On Sunday 17th October we marked the opening of this Synodal Process entitled, For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission. This Synodal Process coincides with the start of the two-year Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland which will lead, in time, to a National Synodal Assembly in Ireland.
Here in the Diocese of Elphin, Bishop Kevin led an hour of prayerful reflection at St Patrick’s Church, Strandhill on Sunday 17th October which you can watch below:
During this hour of prayer, Bishop Kevin gave two reflections on what this Synodal Process is all about
Emmaus! I don’t think it is mentioned anywhere else in the bible. Perhaps there was no particular reason for people to go there. Perhaps, after all, the best description of Emmaus, is that it was three hours walk from Jerusalem. The two disciples were putting distance between themselves and the unpleasant events of the Passover. St. Luke describes how Jesus approached the two disciples on the road and tells us that they were prevented from recognising him. I think that is significant. If they had recognised him immediately, the encounter would have been all about Him.
I think there are two things about this encounter that are particularly life-giving. One is the fact that the disciples are given the space to tell their story, as if to a stranger who hasn’t heard it before. This is not just about describing what happened in Jerusalem. It is about their hopes, which have faded; it is about their disappointment and their experience of emptiness. It is about what might have been. They would have liked to be able to believe that Jesus was alive, as the women said, but they are not convinced. In all of this out-pouring, Jesus listens attentively, even thought he is in a position to see things from a different perspective. The two disciples are empowered by that.
The second important thing is that Jesus shines the light of faith on their human experience. Having listened respectfully to them, he is now better placed to help them reflect on their own experience in the light of God’s word.
We have been invited by Pope Francis to participate in a universal synodal process, and we are also, as it happens, embarking on a national synodal process. The word Synod means “walking together”. Both words are important. The idea of “walking” is important because it reminds us that we are a pilgrim Church. A synod is not an event, it is a journey. The word “together” is also important, because it reminds us that we are being invited to encounter Jesus together.
Shortly after the feeding of the five thousand, St John tells us, many of Jesus disciples no longer walked with Him. Only a handful remained at the foot of the cross. It may seem that, fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago, there was a lot more certainty. The reality is that there have always been disciples who were disillusioned, distracted, disappointed or afraid. Many of us, to a greater or lesser extent can identify with that. It is into that space that Jesus comes to meet us.
Back in the first few months of the pandemic, when we were all in lockdown, I chatted with my sisters every week on Zoom. We talked about the numbers and the restrictions, and the mitigations, and the stupid things we had seen on the street and on the internet. It was a way of checking in with one another, but it wasn’t especially fruitful or hope-filled. In much the same way, it seems to me that it seems to me that if a Synod is to be fruitful, it has to be much more than a meeting of disappointed and anxious disciples. The difference will be in the prayerful encounter with Jesus.
Like the encounter on the road to Emmaus, our engagement with one another in the synodal process will involve two essential elements. We are not just asked to play the role of the two disciples. We are also members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and we are asked to reflect his presence in the Synodal process. In the first place, we are called to listen, as Jesus listened, and to create the space for others to tell their story. This is about respectful dialogue and understanding, even if it does not always lead to agreement. (Jesus did not, after all, agree with the two disciples in their interpretation of the events of Holy Week). The second element is about “unpacking” the Scriptures and shining the light of God’s word on our experiences, including those experiences that are negative and uncomfortable.
As St Luke describes it, the encounter with Jesus lasted until they came to the place where they were going, and Jesus “made as if to go on”. He did not impose himself. It was the disciples who invited him to stay with them, and it was while they were at table that they “recognised him in the breaking of bread”. Only then did they begin to realise the full significance of what had happened on the road, and how their hearts had been on fire as He explained the Scriptures to them.
Let us invite Jesus to say with us now for a while. As we recognise him in the Eucharist, let us allow him to explain the the Scriptures to us, in the circumstances of our own journey, and to re-ignite in us the flame if faith.
(Pause for a time of Eucharistic Adoration)
“And immediately, he vanished from their sight”. In human terms, this must have been a huge disappointment. There must have been so many things they wanted to ask him, but the moment had passed.
The Gospel tells us that it had taken them three hours to walk to Emmaus and “the day was already far gone”. But they got up immediately and headed back to Jerusalem. What was the point in going to Jerusalem? I suppose part of it was that they had good news and they just had to tell somebody. But I think there is more to it than that. Jesus had vanished, but he was alive. That made all the difference.
Perhaps the two disciples realised that, from now on, they must look for Christ in the community of the Church. They had been walking away from Jerusalem, away from where the Apostles were gathered. Going back to Jerusalem was about going back to the community of the Church. It was there, in the presence of the others, that they became witnesses of the Resurrection. It was in the community of the Church that their own experience was confirmed. “It is true, the Lord has indeed risen”.
Some of us may feel very close to the Church and to Christ. Some of us may feel close to Christ, but not so close to the Church. Some of us are quick to point the finger, but there is probably not one among us who, in some way or other, has not been one of those two disciples, disgruntled, insecure or disillusioned. The Synodal process is an invitation to each of us to return to Jerusalem and to find Jesus in the community of the Church.
The preparatory document for the Synod of Bishops offers us a very rich reflection on what the Church is. We are reminded that, during the earthly ministry of Jesus, there were always three “actors” on stage.
- The first actor is Jesus, who takes the initiative, proclaiming the kingdom of God to all who want to listen. 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)
- The second actor is what is described in the Gospels as “the crowd”. These are the people who in one way or another form the audience of Jesus. They follow him from place to place, listening to him, asking him questions, sometimes coming looking for him and sometimes turning away. Jesus is present and available to all of them, including those who are, in one way or another on the margins. Some of them follow him more closely as disciples.
- The third actor is the twelve (or the Apostles) who arrive on stage, not uniquely by their own choice, but because they are called by Jesus. They are not called to a position of privilege but, as Jesus regularly reminds them, to be servants. After the Resurrection, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, “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”.
The preparatory document tells us that, if the Church is to remain and to become more fully what she is, “none of the three actors can leave the scene”. Without Jesus, the Church is just another social structure; another political organisation. Without the Apostles, authorised by Jesus and instructed by the Spirit, the link between the Church now and the original community established by Jesus is broken. (The bishops, with all their human limitations, are the descendants of the Apostles). Finally, of course, without the “crowd”, to whom Jesus continues to address the message of salvation, the whole process is just about the clergy and the privileged few, and it loses its whole focus. So, as we have heard so often in recent times, but hopefully in a much more positive and life-giving sense, “we are all in this together”.
That image of Church seems to set the stage for any authentic and fruitful synodal process.
There is one other image, in this reflection from the Preparatory Document, which seems worth mentioning. That is what is described as the “extra actor”, who is not, properly speaking, a participant in the process, but who is better described as an “antagonist”. He constantly seeks to impose himself, sowing division, preventing the kind of respectful listening to one another and to the Word of Scripture that is so important. Whatever our personal religious or moral views may be; wherever we might see ourselves on the broad canvas of the Church, this spirit of evil knows how to deceive us and to lead us astray. A “continuous conversion” of heart will be necessary if we are to respond to the Spirit of Jesus and to walk fruitfully together on the path that leads to life.
www.catholicbishops.ie/synod – to learn more about the Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland
www.synod.va – to learn more about the worldwide Synod