VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On the eve of a three-day spiritual retreat for participants in the assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis prayed that members of the Church may embrace silence to listen to the voice of God and one another.
“Silence, in the ecclesial community, makes fraternal communication possible, where the Holy Spirit draws together points of view,” the pope said to members of the synod, Christian leaders, and young people in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday, September 30. “To be synodal is to welcome one another like this, in the knowledge that we all have something to share and to learn, gathering together to listen to the spirit of truth in order to know what the Lord is saying to the churches.”
Synod participants, including Bishop Rhoades, were scheduled to spend three days together at a spiritual retreat outside Rome before the synod assembly formally opened on Wednesday, October 4.
Seated before the San Damiano cross, in front of which St. Francis of Assisi said he heard Jesus tell him to “rebuild my Church,” Pope Francis prayed that “the synod be a ‘kairos’ (moment) of fraternity, a place where the Holy Spirit will purify the Church from gossip, ideologies, and polarization.”
At a large complex in Sacrofano, Italy, about 20 miles north of Rome, Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe and Benedictine Mother Maria Ignazia Angelini were asked to provide the spiritual foundations for the synod’s work over the course of the retreat, which was held from Sunday, October 1, through Tuesday, October 3. Pope Francis did not attend the retreat.
“The risk for us, men and women of the Church, is to proceed from our inner, objective, pressing navigation systems” with all the potential danger signs marked out, Mother Angelini said during lauds on October 1. But without prayer, she said, “We lose the horizon.”
“We are not synodal Church first and foremost because we face each other and exchange opinions, much less because we talk over each other,” but because “we draw on the same foundation,” that of faith and openness to the Holy Spirit, she said.
Father Radcliffe, former head of the Dominican order, told synod members they were at the retreat “because we are not united in heart and mind” and yet are called through the synod to find ways to embrace “the Catholic both/and” in responding to the Holy Spirit and to the hopes and fears of Catholics around the world.
“The vast majority of people who have taken part in the synodal process have been surprised by joy,” he said, because, for many of them, “it is the first time that the Church has invited them to speak of their faith and hope.”
But there are conflicting expectations, Father Radcliffe said. “Some hope that the Church will be dramatically changed, that we shall take radical decisions – for example, about the role of women in the Church. Others are afraid of exactly these same changes and fear that they will only lead to division, even schism.”
Synod participants, he said, need to ask the Lord to vanquish their fears and give them hope – “the hope that this synod will lead to a renewal of the Church and not division; the hope that we shall draw closer to each as brothers and sisters.”
The ultimate source of hope for Catholics is the Eucharist, he said. In that sense, synod participants are gathered “like the disciples at the Last Supper, not as a political debating chamber competing to win,” Father Radcliffe added.
“At the Last Supper, there seemed to be no future. All that lay ahead apparently was failure, suffering, and death,” he said. “And in this darkest moment, Jesus made the most hopeful gesture in the history
of the world: ‘This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, poured out for you.’ This is the hope that calls us beyond all division.”
In his second meditation on October 1, Father Radcliffe said the synod members cannot ignore the clerical sexual abuse crisis, which “has been the last straw” for many Catholics. “They have packed their bags and gone.”
“God remains in our Church, even with all the corruption and abuse. We must therefore remain,” he said. “But God is with us to lead us out into the wider open spaces of the kingdom. We need the Church, our present home for all its weaknesses, but also to breathe the Spirit-filled oxygen of our future home without boundaries,” the promised kingdom of God.
Different understandings of the Church “tear us apart today,” the Dominican said. “For some, it is defined by its ancient traditions and devotions, its inherited structures and language, the Church we have grown up with and love.”
“For others, the present Church does not seem to be a safe home. It is experienced as exclusive, marginalizing many people, women, the divorced and remarried,” he said.
Most Catholics are “nourished by beloved traditions and devotions. If they are lost, we grieve,” he said. “But, also, we must remember all those who do not yet feel at home in the Church: women who feel that they are unrecognized in a patriarchy of old white men like me! People who feel that the Church is too Western, too Latin, too colonial. We must journey toward a Church in which they are no longer at the margin but in the center.”
In his meditations on October 2, Father Radcliffe focused on the Gospel call for Jesus’ disciples to be friends. “This synod,” he said, “will be fruitful if it leads us into a deeper friendship with the Lord and with each other.”
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