By now, you should be aware that the Catholic Church throughout the world is engaged in what is called a “synodal” process, in preparation for the Assembly or Synod of Bishops, due to meet in Rome in 2023. Pope Francis has summoned parishes around the world to meet in small groups to discuss two fundamental questions. Given the theme of the Synod, which is “journeying together as we announce the Gospel”, those two fundamental questions are the following: ”How is this “journeying together” happening today in our local Church?” and “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together?” These questions we will be discussing over the course of the next four months, and then forwarding our answers to the diocesan for the next stage of the process.
I’ve been speaking about this synodal process on occasion, since it was officially launched in our diocese last October 17th. But now, as it were, I want to formally introduce it on this feast of the Epiphany. For what is this feast day all about, if not the story of a group of wise men “journeying together” towards an encounter with Jesus Christ, and announcing as they go that the long-awaited King and Savior had come to earth? This is essentially what evangelization is all about, which is the essential calling of us as Church. As Pope Paul VI once wrote: ”The Church exists to evangelize”. Or as it has also been said: ”The Church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of those who do not yet belong to it“. In other words, the Church is essentially missionary in its whole approach. It is sent out by Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. At the end of each of our four gospels, Jesus is described as sending out his disciples to do exactly that. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, he says: ”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). And again at the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus says: ”Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16: 16). Luke has Jesus instructing the disciples thus: ”Thus it is written that the Christ is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24: 46-47). Whereas John has Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on his apostles and saying to them :”As the Father has sent me, so I send you “ (John 20: 21). You see, this is not an option for us. We are called, chosen, summoned by Jesus to become his disciples, to become Church, and then sent out with this mission: to let the whole world know that Christ is calling them also to know and accept him as their Lord and Savior, and become missionary disciples in their turn.
And in all this, these wise men from the East are our model. They are not setting out on their long journey merely to explore the world around them. They are on a quest, there is an aim and a goal and a purpose to their journeying – to encounter the King, the Christ, whose birth has been revealed to them by the appearance of a star, and who will be the answer to all their questionings and searchings. And they are not going out on some architectural dig – the Christ they are seeking is not some dead figure of history. He is alive, He is God come to earth, and he will change history for ever. These magi do not keep this news to themselves, as something they want to guard privately, jealously, and not let anyone else in on. They come into the gospel story today, already telling others about this wondrous birth, believing that they are bringing good news to them, that this newborn King is the answer to all their search for meaning and purpose in their lives also. Sadly, as they discover, that not everybody sees this as good news, that even among the Messiah’s own people, the news of his birth is met with distress, disbelief and angry rejection. But this does not stop them on their quest and in their evangelization.
And so, you and I, brothers and sisters, are called, are summoned, on our own quest. Like the Magi, we don’t have to make this mission on our own. We journey “together” – as a community, as Church. We have each other’s backs. And we do not go through our years ahead in an aimless, short-sighted fashion. We have a mission, a purpose, a goal: to bring into our world the good news that we are not just meaningless collections of atoms, destined to live for a few years on earth, and then die and fade away into nothingness. No, we are people called into being by a God who loves us , who has granted us immortality, and whose desire is to have us pass that immortality in His loving presence in our final resting place, Heaven. This is good news indeed, especially for those who are seeking to find purpose and meaning for their lives, and we are called to share it with others we meet, and not keep it to ourselves.
Sadly, as happened to the Magi, there will be people we encounter who do not want to hear this news, who will dismiss it with anger and scorn, yet this must not put us off our evangelizing. There are those who will respond with gratitude and acceptance of our message of hope. Even Jesus did not win them all. But, as with the wise men , who, after encountering Jesus for themselves, in Bethlehem , were shown another way to go from there that did not lead them back to Herod, we too will be led by the Spirit to those who really do want to receive our good news. Like the wise men also, we do not proclaim Jesus as a dead figure of history, a gifted man who had some super good ideas. No we proclaim him as a living God and Savior, as the only answer to people’s deepest longings for peace, for love, for joy, for meaning and purpose. We don’t try to build “castles in the sky”. We seek to build up the kingdom of God on earth, while knowing that the final form that kingdom will take goes beyond earthly limits and worldly expectations .
In the days and weeks ahead, I will be seeking ways to gather us together, in small groups, within the limits the present pandemic imposes on us. We will be discussing the fundamental questions of our synodal process: ”How do we journey together today in our local Church?” and “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘Journeying together?’”. Let us finish with the “Prayer of Invocation to the Holy Spirit” proposed for us to pray during the synodal process, and which you will find on the website at the end of my homily today.
We stand before you, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in your name.
With you alone to guide us,
make yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go,
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful,
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path
nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in you our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life
and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
All this we ask of you
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen