Bishop Brian’s Homily for the Beginning of Diocesan Stage of the Synod on Synodality

Mass in St Margaret’s in Roy Bridge

Today Bishop Brian, during Mass in St Margaret’s in Roy Bridge, opened the first stage within our diocese of the Synod on Synodality. We will hear a lot more about the Synod over the next few months but here in Bishop Brian’s homily:

For some time, when I have been praying over the Gospels, I have become increasingly aware that not only do the enemies of Jesus reject his message but that frequently his disciples, including the apostles, fail to understand him or accept his message in its entirety.

In our Gospel passages since August we have listened to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where he will endure the Passion before rising. During this journey Jesus teaches disciples, and especially the apostles, about his true nature and why he has come and the implications that this will have for them as his followers. The disciples spectacularly fail to understand. Today is a perfect example. Immediately before today’s passage Jesus predicts his Passion and Resurrection for the third time. What happens next?

James and John approach Jesus. Along with Peter and Andrew they were the first four disciples. They have known Jesus longer than most. Furthermore, James, John and Peter form an inner circle within the apostles and have had unique insights into Jesus. Surely if anyone understood Jesus it should be these two brothers. Not so! They demand that Jesus gives them the greatest glory in his Kingdom. How selfish! The other ten apostles are no better. They too want the glory of leadership and so are angry at James and John trying to usurp them. Jesus, once again, teaches the apostles that he has come to serve and give his life to save humanity. Rather than desiring the autocratic and violent style of authority of the pagans they are to be humble servants, just like Jesus.

The apostles were not bad men, they loved Jesus and they did listen to Jesus but they were also weak and so their receptiveness was limited. It was partly their own frailty that prevented them from accepting Jesus’ direct message about his Passion or understanding passages from the Old Testament such as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant which was our First Reading today (Isaiah 53:10-11). The apostles had only listened to Jesus’ teaching on glory but ignored the Passion. However, Jesus did not give up on the apostles and after his Resurrection Jesus opened up their minds to understand where the Scriptures foretold his ministry. The apostles also accepted the implications for their own ministry. In the Garden of Gethsemane neither James nor John had been willing to drink the Cup of Suffering but they were subsequently willing to drain it.

Today it is we who need to listen to Jesus properly. Of course we love Jesus, listen to him, want to follow him but, like the first disciples, can our receptiveness also be limited? Today it is we who can at times misunderstand Jesus and therefore not live exactly as he asks. If the apostles only listened to what they wanted to hear what makes us think we will be any different? It is important that each individual disciple, and the Church as a whole, makes every effort to hear the message of God in its fullness so that we all discern as much as possible God’s Will. Of course, no one person or group has all the insights. However, everyone can be gifted with a unique but authentic insight from God. This is we should not be afraid to listen to the wisdom of others, even when it is challenging.

Since the Second Vatican Council representatives of the world’s bishops come together periodically in Rome to discuss a set topic in what is called the Synod of Bishops. The word ‘Synod’ means ‘Journeying Together’ and so when the bishops gather from every country the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the world’s many varied places and circumstances are shared and listened to. This helps the Church to better discern the Will of God regarding concrete situations. The next Synod of Bishops will meet in Rome in two years time. The topic is ‘Synodality’ itself. How can we journey together as a Church? How can we better listen to each and more fully discern God’s Will?

Pope Francis has decided that the first stage of the Synod is held in every diocese throughout the world. In this first stage we are all, clergy, lay faithful and religious, asked to listen to each other. The Pope hopes that this listening will become normal practice in the Church. This first stage is opened by each bishop during Mass today. The significance of prayer is not lost on me. Before we speak let us first listen to God. If we are not to simply come to our own conclusions based only on our ‘own wisdom’ but rather authentically hear the Spirit’s voice then we must prayerfully read the Scriptures, reflect on our lives and the world, be humble and strive to live as Jesus asks. I implore everyone in our diocese oF Argyll and the Isles to dedicate ourselves to deeper and more reflective prayer. I am excited at the prospect of us all, like the apostles, growing in God’s wisdom. How enriching that would be for our families, our parishes, our diocese, the Church Universal and the entire world.