Synod Listening Session – June 5, 2022
Let’s begin this reflection on the scriptures by going back in time a bit – to when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation – the sacrament that we so often associate with today’s great Solemnity of Pentecost. There is a time-honored definition of Confirmation that I learned about 55 years ago and that still is quite meaningful. Do you recall the definition? … “Confirmation is a sacrament in which the Holy Spirit comes to us in a special way to make us strong and perfect Christians and witnesses of Jesus Christ.”
For all that the definition of Confirmation teaches, it is the end result and purpose of the sacrament that’d we’d do well to consider today. The Spirit is given to us in Confirmation for a reason: “to make us strong and perfect Christians and witnesses of Jesus Christ.” … And to be a witness of Jesus Christ means, quite simply, that we live our faith – that we live with integrity, reflecting in what we do who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.
Today’s great feast of Pentecost celebrates that unseen presence of God in our lives and in our Church that animates us to do the work of the Gospel … that makes God’s will our will … and that transforms us so that we are able to bring God’s life and love to our broken world. God “breathes” his Spirit into our souls that we might live in his life and love, in order to realize the coming of his reign.
Our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles sets the stage for the coming of the Spirit. Before the Pentecost event, there was no Church. There was just Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a diverse group of imperfect, ill-equipped disciples, gathered together in a room. They had experienced Jesus raised from the dead. They had watched him ascend into the heavens. But something was missing. They were still uncertain of what to do. They were afraid, most of all, that what had happened to Jesus on the cross was going to happen to them.
Saint John, in his gospel, tells us that Jesus appeared in the midst of his disciples and breathed the new life of the Spirit of God upon them. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In “breathing” the Holy Spirit upon them, the lives of Jesus’ disciples were changed. A frightened band of followers of a rabbi from Nazareth became the Church – an emboldened group of disciples, sent forth as the living, breathing presence of Jesus in the world.
“In these very scripture verses,” Pope Francis shared in his exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, “we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.” … The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward. So take the initiative, go out, seek those who have fallen away, and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.”
This, brothers and sisters, is why the Spirit has been given to us by the risen Lord. … This is the heart of the Pentecost event and what we celebrate this day. … This is what we are called to do and to be as authentic disciples of the Lord.
How providential that these scripture passages are offered to us on this day in which so many of you representing our 117 parishes from throughout our eleven counties join together with me, at Pope Francis’ invitation, for this Mass and a listening session as we participate in the preparatory phase of upcoming worldwide Synod of Bishops on Synodality in the Church – a process meant to gather Jesus’ disciples in order to hear their voices – to listen to their hearts.
It’s certainly fair to say that at times throughout her history, the Church has drifted away from its mandate to listen to the voice of Christ alive in each member of the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, from the example of its earliest days and fortified by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has called all of us to claim our baptismal right to speak to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And here, in the Diocese of Scranton, for the past seven months, we have welcomed you, the faithful of our Church, to do just that. Through a variety of means, from parish gatherings to social media surveys to today’s session that follows this Mass, you have been invited to open your hearts and to share your concerns, your hopes and dreams for the how the Church can best proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus and his message of life and salvation.
Today, we continue to reflect on the theme: Towards a synodal Church: communion, participation, mission. We will again do so by listening to the voices of our people, whether they be active members of our parish communities, those who feel marginalized or those who may have fallen away from the Church.
In announcing the Synod process to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome in October, 2021, 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.”
The Holy Father’s hope, which is my prayer as well, is that the experience of this unique opportunity will bring about a springtime for listening, discernment, dialogue and decision-making in our Church. Listen 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. … 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, on this great day of Pentecost, may the same Spirit that gave birth to the Church open our hearts to the power and presence of God and so enable us to become witnesses of Jesus’ saving presence in and through our Church today.