29th Sunday of the Church Year – Opening of Worldwide Synod
“Towards a Synodal Church:  Communion, Participation, Mission”
17 October 2021

 If today’s gospel reading sounds somewhat familiar, it should.  Just four weeks ago in the Sunday scriptures, Jesus admonished his disciples for arguing among themselves about which one of them was the most important.  You might recall that Jesus responded to their pointless debate with these words, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Apparently, however, James and John didn’t listen all that well to what Jesus had to say to them.  In today’s gospel, the two sons of Zebedee unbelievably ask for places of honor and influence when Jesus begins his reign.  For a second time, James and John were oblivious to what Jesus tried to teach about his passion and the place of selfless service and love in his life and that of his disciples.

Thankfully, while the two brothers failed to listen to Jesus and got in the way of the message of their master, Jesus listened carefully to what was going on in their lives and their misguided assumptions of greatness in the Kingdom of God.  He listened to their hearts and once again tried to bring James, John and the others to a deeper understanding of his mission, which would one day be theirs.  Essentially, he told the Twelve, “If you really understand me and what I am about, if you want to be my disciple, then you must see the world and respond to its challenges in a particular way. The world may try to glorify self-preservation over selflessness, to preserve the system rather than to work for compassion and justice – but it cannot be that way with you!”

In reflecting upon the gospel stories of Jesus life and ministry – the one we heard proclaimed today and countless others – it is quite apparent that Jesus spent a great deal of time listening – listening to struggling souls who were seeking a better life for themselves and those they loved.  What set Jesus apart was that in every instance, he listened to those who approached him with the merciful heart of God.  He acknowledged not only the words they spoke but also the movements of their hearts as they shared their disappointments and fears, grief and pain, brokenness and sin, hopes and dreams.  And he treated them with respect and dignity.  …  Authentic listening – not just with our ears, but also with our head and heart – is a truly powerful, sacred and deeply human experience.

From the earliest days of Christianity as noted in the Acts of the Apostles, the Church has sought to listen to the voice of Christ alive in each member of the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Today, under the leadership of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and with the Church throughout the world, we begin here in the Diocese of Scranton, a process of listening; listening to the hearts of the people of God and the movements of the Holy Spirit found therein.

Throughout her history, the Church has used the model of a Synod as a means of listening to the voice of Christ alive in each of her members.  Simply put, a Synod is a process meant to gather Jesus’ disciples in order to hear their voices.  Today, we embrace a journey on which the entire People of God is invited to reflect on the theme:  Towards a synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.  As a vital first step in the Synod process, Pope Francis has called each diocese throughout the world to listen to the voices of its people, including those who are marginalized or may have fallen away from the Church.

By virtue of our Baptism, all of us are called to be active participants in the life of the Church through discernment, participation and co-responsibility.  By means of a process of careful listening, our participation in the Synod process will hopefully enable us to better understand how the entire Christian community is called to participate in the life of our Church and how that shared participation among our members might grow in the future.

Particularly in these most challenging days as we continue to confront the coronavirus, we have all wondered aloud and in our hearts about the future of our Church.  It’s more apparent than ever that even with its never-ending message of salvation and life through the selfless love and sacrifice of Jesus, the Church exists in a world that is ever changing.  As such, from its very beginnings, the Church has always sought to respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit in its desire to bring all souls to Christ.

In announcing the Synod process to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis asserted, “Christianity should always be human and accessible, reconciling differences and distances, turning them into familiarity and proximity.”  The Holy Father went on to say that “if Christians do not feel a deep inner restlessness, then something is missing.  That inner restlessness is born of faith; it impels us to consider what it is best to do, what needs to be preserved or changed.  History teaches us that it is not good for the Church to stand still.  Movement is the fruit of docility to the Holy Spirit, who directs this history, in which all have a part to play, in which all are restless, never standing still.”

Far from being a temporary or one-time experience, in calling the Church to participate in the Synod process, Pope Francis is reminding us that the very mission of the Church requires the entire People of God to be on a journey together, with each member playing his or her crucial role, united with each other.

Our diocese is in the process of developing a broad consultation process for participation in our parishes, schools and other diocesan structures over the next six months. In addition, online opportunities to reach all members of our community will be available. While more details will be shared in the near future, I encourage your participation in this historic moment in the life of Church in the Diocese of Scranton in whatever manner you feel best responds to your situation.

The Holy Father’s hope, which is my prayer as well, is that the experience of this unique worldwide opportunity will bring about a new springtime for listening, discernment, dialogue and decision-making in our Church.  Listen once again to his words, “Journey together:  the Spirit will lead you; trust in the Spirit.  Do not be afraid to engage in dialogue and even to be taken aback by what you hear, for this is the dialogue of salvation.  …  In this time of pandemic, the Lord is guiding the Church’s mission as a sacrament of care.  Our world has cried out and shown its vulnerability:  our world needs care.”

Brothers and sisters, in speaking from the depths of our hearts and listening with care to the needs of our struggling world and Church, may God’s Spirit guide us as we walk together with you during these hope-filled days in our Church.