As we gather this evening to mark the conclusion of the diocesan phase of the synod, I am especially grateful for the generosity of our synod team and the many, many people who have participated in the synod listening sessions. At the end of Mass this evening, Father Evers will provide us with a summary of the major themes that emerged from the various listening sessions. And while it is significant that this summary will become part of the report that will ultimately be sent to Rome as a summary of the reports from all the dioceses of the United States, the opportunity that I have been afforded over the past five months to listen to representatives of parishes from throughout our diocese has been, for me, very significant. And for that I am very grateful.
In calling for the synod, Pope Francis was clear in saying that we should not view a synod as an event or task to be accomplished but rather as the way what we as the church journey together discerning the direction of the Holy Spirit. In the vademecum for the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis told us that this Synod on Synodality is “an opportunity for the entire people of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal church in the long-term.” Let us reflect for a few moments on what we have experienced over these months and how we are now called to go forward as the Church and a People of Communion, Participation and Mission.
We begin with communion. An important part of each of our gatherings was the time that we took to open ourselves up in prayer to the Holy Spirit. For many of us, the account of Jesus appearing to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus was read. We took time to silently allow the word of God to enter into our hearts and we then allowed the spirit of God to bring forth a word or phrase that resonated within us. It was a time of listening instead of speaking. In today’s first reading from Exodus, we hear how the Israelites, as they wandered in the desert, expressed their hunger, their need for food and their dependence upon God. And into this emptiness God acts and feeds them with manna from heaven. The first step in being in communion with God and one another is entering into the posture of listening. It is being receptive to God’s spirit or to the voice of the other person. It is being receptive to what God or another person is offering. The Israelites’ physical hunger caused them to turn to God and receive God’s answer — manna from heaven. We too need a certain amount of emptiness, perhaps not so much physical but rather spiritual. We need to quiet our hearts and minds, to still our opinions and voices, in order to receive God’s word or hear the thoughts of another. When we are able to do this we are on the road to being in communion with God and living as the people of God.
Secondly, we look to participation and the ways that so many people gave up their time and took the effort to be part of the synodal process. You and so many others were not sideline observers but you brought forth your experience, insights, recommendations. Let us also be aware that in your participation you were not only part of parish or even the diocese. You were joining people from throughout the world in participating in the synod. And even beyond this worldwide effort, we were continuing the tradition that we see beginning in today’s second reading from Acts of the Apostles as the first members of the church joined together to support one another and discern together the direction in which the Holy Spirit was leading them. As a synodal church may we continue to participate in the various ways that we make up the Body of Christ.
And finally, a word on mission. In today’s Gospel, we hear of the multiplication of the fishes and loaves. While the focus of this miracle is the feeding of the huge crowd with what began as just a few loaves of bread and some fish, it is apparent that the disciples of Jesus were involved in the Jesus’ mission to feed the hungry. They brought forth the original bread and fish that Jesus multiplied. After the multiplication Jesus instructs them to distribute the food to the crowd. And while not part of the Gospel passage that we heard today, just prior to this event in Jesus’ life, St. Luke tells us that the disciples had just returned to Jesus after he had “sent them forth to proclaim the reign of God and heal the afflicted” (Luke 9:2). As members of the Church, we are called to follow the example of those disciples and go forth proclaiming the goodness of God. Like that crowd long ago whom Jesus fed, we too are fed today and every time we gather for Mass. We are fed not with a perishable food, but with the Bread of Life — The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And in being fed we are strengthened to once again go forth and proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ.
May we be strengthened in communion. May we participate in the life of the Church. May we be strengthened in going forth in mission to proclaim Jesus.