Walk alongside your people, Pope Francis tells bishops at synod’s close
By Ann Schneible
Pope Francis Sunday officially brought the Synod on the Family to a close at Mass in St. Peter’s, warning against a “spirituality of illusion,” and reminding pastors of their duty to accompany the faithful and be bearers of God’s mercy especially in times of suffering and conflict.
“Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves,” he said.
“Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!”
This year’s Synod on the Family, which ran from Oct. 4-25, is the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”
Pope Francis centered his reflection on the day’s Mass readings which, he said, demonstrate God’s compassion and fatherhood as “definitively revealed in Jesus.”
The day’s first reading from Jeremiah depicts the prophet Jeremiah declaring that “the Lord has saved” the people of Israel who have been “deported by their enemies” because “he is their Father.”
“His fatherhood opens up for them a path forward, a way of consolation after so many tears and great sadness,” the Pope said.
So long as the people persevere in their fidelity and in seeking God, despite being in a foreign land, “God will change their captivity into freedom, their solitude into communion.”
Pope Francis turned to the day’s Psalm, reflecting on the difficulties and joys by pastors in their work.
“A believer is someone who has experienced God’s salvific action in his life,” he said. “We pastors have experienced what it means to sow with difficulty, at times in tears, and to rejoice for the grace of a harvest which is beyond our strength and capacity.”
The Pope then turned to the second reading taken from the Letter of the Hebrews, which demonstrates Jesus’ compassion, leading him to take on all human weaknesses and temptations save sin.
“For this reason he is the mediator of the new and definitive covenant which brings us salvation.”
Pope Francis turned to the Gospel reading from Mark which depicts the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, a passage which he said links back to the first reading from Jeremiah.
“As the people of Israel were freed thanks to God’s fatherhood, so too Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion,” the Pope said.
As the story recounts, Jesus had left Jericho on his way to Jerusalem when he responded to the Bartimaeus who was begging. The Pope observed that rather than offering the blind man alms, he sought to encounter him, asking: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Although “it might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight?” Pope Francis said, it indicates Jesus’ desire “to hear our needs.”
“He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him.”
The Pope observed Jesus’ confidence in Bartimaeus and admiration for his faith.
“He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.”
Pope Francis observed how the disciples, having been sent by Jesus to call Bartimaeus, say to him “Take heart!” and then “Rise” – expressions only used by Jesus in the rest of the Gospel.
“Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations,” the Pope said.
The Pope said it is the disciples’ duty to lead people to Jesus in a way that is encouraging and liberating.
Pope Francis went on to warn against two specific temptations to which Jesus’ followers are susceptible. He refers to the first of these as a “spirituality of illusion,” whereby we walk alongside Jesus, but to avoid being bothered with the problems of others.
“We can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes.”
“A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.”
Under this first temptation, we do not think like Jesus, despite being with him the Pope said. “Our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace.”
“We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded.”
The second temptation is what Pope Francis refers to as a “scheduled faith,” whereby we walk with God’s people but follow our own agenda for the journey, expecting others to “respect our rhythm,” and being bothered by every problem.
The Pope observed that this temptation makes us like the “many” people in the Gospel who “lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus, with the mindset: “whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded.”
“Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him,” he said.
The Pope concluded by thanking the Synod Fathers for their participation in the three-week gathering, which officially concluded Sunday.
“Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love,” he said.
He called for us to follow the path the Lord wants us to follow, asking “him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it.”
“Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.”
Not a bad way to end his message of openness to the marginalised; Pope Francis brings reality into the heart of the Synod Fathers:
‘The second temptation is what Pope Francis refers to as a “scheduled faith,” whereby we walk with God’s people but follow our own agenda for the journey, expecting others to “respect our rhythm,” and being bothered by every problem. The Pope observed that this temptation makes us like the “many” people in the Gospel who “lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus, with the mindset: “whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded.”
“Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him,” he said.’
Both conservatives and liberals have been quick to claim victory in the deliberations of the Bishops in Synod over these past few days in Rome. Conservatives will claim that no doctrine of the Church has been overturned; a statement that, strictly speaking, is true. However, the fact that such matters as a renewed perspective on how, pastorally, to deal with the divorced and re-married, and the LGBTQ community has been raised in the debates is surely a movement forward from an outright ban on discussion of these subjects.
Pope Francis, following up on the groundwork of his illustrious predecessor, Pope John XXIII, was intent on reviving the spirit of Vatican II‘s openness to new directions in the Church, with a greater willingness to dialogue with the Faithful Laity. His obvious alliance with the eirenic propositions of Cardial Kaspar, and those of the bishops who want a more welcoming approach to people on the margins of Church and society, has become apparent. Also, welcome voices from Australia and New Zealand, commending a greater openness to divorcees and to the LGBTQ community, will have been well-noted.
The response of African Bishops, and Cardinal Pell (formerly of Sydney) ; might be equated to those of the Gafcon , Acna, and Sydney Anglican Church bodies in the struggle in our own Anglican Communion – in their resistance to changes that might bring relief to the marginalised of our own Churches.
This statement of Pope Francis, of the Roman Catholic Church, is much more in line with the Gospel openness of Jesus to people on the fringes than that of the Kenyan Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, who has just issued his own ‘Anglican Orthodox’ quasi-papal edict to the people of ACNA and GAFCON – before his projected appearance at the Primates Meeting in Canterbury in January 2016.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand