very Catholic diocese in the world is invited, this weekend, to launch its ‘Synodal Pathway‘, a journey of mutual listening and discernment. We can’t be left out!
This is the Pope’s invitation and he has given us plenty of indications about what he hopes and prays for. The journey he describes is a long one, leading not only to a Synod of Bishops in 2023 but to a refreshed and refreshing way of living our life of faith, in a Church in which all are included in prayerful reflection, enriching one another in our different roles and through our different experiences.
Last Sunday Pope Francis presented three words that he sees as key to this journey. They were ‘meet, listen, discern’. They are worth pondering. So, I provide for you all, on paper, the key points from his homily.
He wants us to meet with people with whom we don’t often gather, especially with people who are often left out, or who feel left out. He wants us to listen from the heart as we share our journey of faith. He wants us to ponder, prayerfully, what we see as gifts of God emerging in our meetings.
Pope Francis is also very clear about what he doesn’t want. He says continually: ‘It is not about gathering opinions, no. This is not a survey but about listening to the Holy Spirit… The first commitment’, he says, ‘is to have ears, to listen.’ Again, he says: ‘This is not about distinguishing between majorities and minorities: a parliament does this’. Rather, he says, ‘the rejected must be part of the process and we must include our miseries!’
Meet, listen, discern.
Over the coming weeks, opportunities will emerge for you to do this. And there is no limit, except that of time, for we have until February to complete our reflections, whether in our parish, in a school, in a religious house, a group of friends, or reaching out to those whom we barely know. Indeed, we are encouraged to pay special attention to those ‘still, small voices’, those not clamouring for attention, but needing every encouragement to make their contribution.
Meet, listen, discern.
But what are we going to be talking about?
There are three simple steps I propose.
Our conversations are to be based on our experience of living the faith. Recent months, the long months of the pandemic, have thrown fresh light on that experience. So, we begin by listening to how we have lived our faith during this time, what has helped, what was missing, who was left out. We ask ‘How did God touch my life in those long and difficult months?’
Then the second step is to broaden out those reflections to the wider themes of this process: communion, participation and mission. Communion: What do we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of our life as a Church? Participation: How easy is it to make a contribution, to participate? What is the way of participation that you would most appreciate? And mission: our call to serve the world, working alongside all brothers and sisters.
The third step is to gather the fruits of this reflection and to offer that fruit to the wider diocese so that an overall picture of our life and faith, our dreams and hopes, our desires and insights might emerge.
I thank each of you, present here this evening, who have accepted a role in this process on behalf of your parish. I know there will be plenty of help and advice available. Take it up. But do not be anxious. Do not pay attention to those who are saying that this is a divisive and risky endeavour. Do not be tempted to reduce it to a gathering of opinions. It is not ideas we are to be talking about, but the touch and movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of each of us, whether woman or man, young or old, layperson or priest, or cardinal! We all have our contributions to make. This is a journey that will be true in as much as it is made with a loving and open heart, with humility and deference, with twice as much listening as talking! Let this be your guide. In this way, we can ask to enrich each other and, together, enrich the life of the Church.
The Scripture readings at Mass this weekend give us a wonderful picture of group sharing and listening between the disciples. It’s not very edifying: ambition and jealousy quickly emerge and threaten to dominate the proceedings. But Jesus has two messages about the pathway we are to follow: it is the pathway of humble service, and it is a pathway which goes by the road of suffering, even to the Hill of Calvary.
This message of salvation must shape our efforts, always, and especially in these months. We will hear stories of frustration, disappointment and dismay, as well as those of joy and gratitude. We will need to be humble servants to one another. Only by recognising our limitations before God, and our weaknesses, will this process avoid becoming yet another experience of polarisation. The witness we must give, in contrast, is one of a dialogue of the heart in both difference and profound unity. And all the time in prayer, but not the kind of prayer that seeks God’s agreement and support for my plans and wishes, for myself or for the Church. No, our prayer is one that seeks that God’s will may be done in each one of us and in the Church.
Remember the opening prayer of this Mass: ‘Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to yours, and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.’ If we make that the inspiration of our journey together, it will be truly blessed.
So let it be.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster