The following is the text of homily preached by Dr Eugene Duffy at Mass to launch the Synodal Pathway. Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of The Annunciation and St Nathy on Saturday October 16th. The Principal Celebrant was Bishop Paul Dempsey.
When Pope Francis was elected, in March 2013, his simplicity and charismatic character somehow caught the imagination of the world. There were images of him paying his hotel bill, ringing up his corner shop in Buenos Aires to cancel his newspaper, moving from the grand papal apartments to simpler accommodation near his offices and taking his meals in the canteen with rest of the staff. All of these simple gestures were another way of saying he wanted a different kind of Church, one that was less formal, closer to ordinary people and more sensitive to their daily concerns.
In fact, he was chosen as Pope because the Cardinals recognised that there was serious dysfunction in the Vatican and that somehow the leadership of the Church was losing contact with its members. Apart from internal problems in the Vatican, the Church faced other major issues, such as the fallout from the sexual abuse scandals, a growing secularisation in Europe, the advance of the Pentecostal churches in Latin America and a general fatigue in Church leadership. Thus the stage was set for a Pope who would recall the Church to a renewed vision of its mission and one who could effect an internal renewal of its structures.
In practically every letter he has written, and every address he has delivered, since his election, Pope Francis has been reminding bishops, priests and every member of the Church of the need for reform and renewal. It is in the context of this renewal effort that he has summoned a Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2023 to look at how the Church itself can be more synodal. By that he means: how can every member of the Church play an active part in making the Church a more credible sign of God’s action in the world? How can all of us work together in creating genuine communities of faith and service? How can we hear the message of the Gospel more clearly and begin to live its implications.
Last Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis launched the preparatory process for this Synod to be held in 2023. He has asked the bishops of the world to launch a similar preparatory process in each diocese around the world this weekend. That is what we are doing today. We are in a small and low-key way launching that preparatory process for the diocese of Achonry.
The Pope wants us to engage in what he calls a process of discernment. It’s a little like going to the doctor. You might present with a rash on your skin. The doctor will look at it and examine it. He might then take your blood pressure, listen to your heart and lungs and eventually and discover that the problem is more than skin deep. Only then will he prescribe a treatment.
We know that the Church is not in as good a shape as it might be right now. We can see so many of the symptoms, but like the doctor, we need to listen to what is going on below the surface. What listening do we need to do? Essentially, like the doctor, we have to listen without actually seeing what we are listening to. We are listening for God’s word or we are listening to what God’s Spirit is saying to us at this time.
How do we hear God’s voice today? We hear it, first of all, in the scriptures. We have just heard three readings, each of them is the word of God spoken to us today. The first reading told us the story of the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples at Pentecost. That same Spirit is poured out on every member of the Church ever since. We could listen to that message over and over again, so that our awareness of God’s Spirit becomes more acute and our sensitivities sharpened to pick up on how the Spirit is working on us.
We get further help in the second reading. There St Paul reminds us that each of us is gifted differently. Our list might differ from St Paul’s, but in reality when we look around us we notice people gifted in all kinds of ways – there are leaders and managers, there are teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, fitters, carpenters, butchers, tailors, IT specialists and the list goes on. We rely on so many people for our lives to run smoothly. Every one who contributes to our survival and wellbeing is a gift to us. We are an interdependent people, none of us could survive on our own. We depend on others and others depend on us. That gives us reason to be grateful.
This sense of interdependence is something to be valued and supported. It is part of what it is to be both human and Christian. Therefore, when you contribute in any way to the wellbeing of others you are acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is not as if being a good citizen of the world has nothing to do with being a good Christian. A good Christian is also a good citizen and in being so, one is responding to God’s call on one’s life.
The second way of hearing God’s word is by noticing what is going on around you. Where do you notice people in difficulty, struggling to survive, worn down by the pressures of life? Do you hear an inner voice inviting you to do something in response? One small example of this is the Irish response to the UNICEF Covax campaign – Irish people who received the Covid vaccine have contributed over €5m to this campaign, to share the benefits of the vaccine with poorer countries around the world. You could call that advertisement by UNICEF a prompting of God’s Spirit. I’m sure that each of you could give examples nearer home – someone reaching out to a neighbour in need, is responding to the promptings of God’s Spirit.
In this synod process, we are now being invited to listen to the needs of the world, to hear where we are being called to bring God’s love to bear on challenging situations. We are being asked to look at our local parishes and communities to see how they can be more genuine, more authentic in living lives fashioned on the gospel. We can also look at the level of the diocese and see how we are living gospel lives and then at the global level. But we have to begin locally and sincerely.
The Irish bishops have also been planning on a synodal process for some time. Therefore, the Pope’s initiative coincides with something that the Irish bishops had also been planning. At a local level, Bishop Paul Dempsey has established a Pastoral Leadership Team, which had its first full in person meeting last night in the College. So, at the level of our own diocese, there is also a renewal process about to get underway. All of these initiatives will involve a listening process, where we hear the needs of the people and hear their perspectives on the life of the Church at every level.
Two members of the Pastoral Leadership Team, Maeve Leheny and Bill Carty, will work with me in planning how that process will be rolled out over the coming months. Each diocese is expected to have undertaken a listening process by February next, the results of those processes will be collated for the country and then forwarded to a European centre and eventually all of those from around the world will be sent to Rome to be analysed and used to prepare for the Synod of 2023. The data gathered in our own diocese will help to form the basis of our own pastoral planning for the coming years.
Life today is complex and challenging. There is an enormous amount of good in our world, in our local communities and in our Church. We have to acknowledge and celebrate that goodness. Equally, there are big problems facing us: we have great threats to the environment and displacement of peoples on a global level; health care and housing are major issues in our country; then we face problems of secularisation and unbelief, a decline in prayer and practice in our Churches, an ageing and declining priesthood, the lack of leadership roles for women in the Church and lack in knowledge of the basics of the faith.
The agenda is extensive. However, we are not alone in facing all of these issues. First of all, the Spirit of God is at work among us, but we have to listen to that voice. Secondly, we have one another, each of us uniquely gifted, so we have great resources upon which we can draw. That calls for both humility and generosity – the humility to acknowledge the gifts that others can bring and the generosity to offer our own gifts for the benefit of others. Our hope is that this process on which we are embarking this evening will generate those gifts of generosity and humility to build up our world and our Church. As the weeks go on, you will hear more about the process and I hope that you will support it in whatever way is possible for you.
I will end with the same prayer that Pope Francis used last week in his own address, when launching the Synod:
Come, Holy Spirit! You inspire new tongues and place words of life on our lips: keep us from becoming a “museum Church”, beautiful but mute, with much past and little future. Come among us, so that in this synodal experience we will not lose our enthusiasm, dilute the power of prophecy, or descend into useless and unproductive discussions. Come, Spirit of love, open our hearts to hear your voice! Come, Holy Spirit of holiness, renew the holy and faithful People of God! Come, Creator Spirit, renew the face of the earth! Amen.
Talk given to “We Are Church” by Bishop Paul Dempsey, Achonry Diocese, 12th October 2021.
“Our Synodal Journey”
As I look back over my life and especially since I entered priestly formation in 1989 there has been a lot of change in the Church and society. As someone immersed in the life of the Church, the image of the dessert in the scriptures captures for me a little of what it has been like. We have wandered through the wilderness wondering which way to follow. In the light of this “wandering” I believe we have a great opportunity as we set out on this synodal journey together. It is an apt time to reflect upon our experience of Church and face the many questions we are grappling with.
On the 10th of October Pope Francis launched the Synodal Journey in Rome which will focus on “Synodality,” its themes being “Communion, Participation and Mission.” My presentation this evening is focussed on the journey towards the Synod in Ireland over the next five years or so. However, the processes closely connected.
The crucial question that lies behind this journey for us in the Irish Church is: “What is the Lord asking of us as a Church in Ireland today?” To begin the exploration of this question I turn to Pope Francis’ Homily on Pentecost Sunday 2021. In it he emphasises the primacy of the Holy Spirit and he makes three points that help us understand how he approaches synodality:
Firstly, he reminds us that the Holy Spirit advises us to “Live in the Present.” He encourages us not to be paralysed by the rancour of the past or fear about the future. Synodality offers us all the opportunity to share our experience of the Church today. People need to be heard. We have had a lot of listening processes, but are we actually hearing what people are saying? This has to be at the heart of any synodal journey.
Secondly, the Spirit tells us to “Look to the whole,” in other words, focus on the bigger picture. The Spirit shapes us into a “unity that is never uniformity.” He takes the Apostles as an example. They were all different! Matthew was a tax collector, he collaborated with the Romans, whereas Simon, the Zealot fought them! They had contrary political ideas and different visions of the world. However, when they received the Spirit, they gave primacy to the “whole” of God’s plan, not their individual viewpoints. If we apply this to today’s experience of Church, if we listen to the Spirit, we will not be concerned with conservatives or progressives. When we get caught up in such things the Church has forgotten the Spirit. This is a very important point in the light of the polarisation that is being experienced in the Church today. There are strong viewpoints, this is positive as it illustrates the great passion for the Church and the mission entrusted to us. But there are many different views of how this mission should take place.
The Spirit advises us to “Put God before yourself.” There is need to empty ourselves to leave room for the Lord. We should not focus merely on our own effectiveness or efficiency we must be conscious of the transcendent.
In the light of these helpful pointers, how do we answer the question: “What is the Lord saying to the Church in Ireland today?” The answer to this question calls for discernment. Pope Francis has named his fear that “synodality” is sometimes understood in a parliamentary sense. People discuss relevant issues which are then voted on. However, there is much more to it than this. Discernment is required and this is something far deeper. Discernment is an attempt to discover God’s mysterious plan for us, it is a gift of the Spirit. We must allow the Spirit to surprise us!
There was much commentary on the Amazonian Synod. One of the topics reflected upon was the possibility of ordaining married men. Pope Francis stated that there was rich discussion and debate but there was no discernment. I was somewhat confused by this statement but then I understood that despite the rich discussion there was no moving forward together, therefore it was not the time to move on this issue. However, the door is not closed to further discernment in the future.
The process of discernment involves prayer, a deep sense of prayer. We must enter this experience of prayer together being open to the Spirit and see where it leads us. This may require us letting go of our agenda and be open to the prompting of the Spirit. There are many examples of this in the life of the Church. If we look to the early Church we see examples of discernment. In Acts 15 the serious topic of Jewish Christians and Gentiles emerges. There were deep tensions among the members of the Church. In Acts 15:22 we hear the following: “Then the apostles and elders together with the whole Church decided to choose representatives from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…” (Judas and Barsabbas were chosen). Then in Acts 15:28: “We, with the Holy Spirit, have decided not to put any other burden on you…” This work of the Spirit allowed the new Christian faith to spread widely, illustrating that it must have been the action of the Spirit.
John IIXXX was viewed as a “stop gap” pope. In an interview with his private secretary, he mentioned how Pope John XXIII came to him three times mentioning a Council. It seems there was discernment happening deep within Pope John’s heart. Shortly afterwards he introduced the idea of Second Vatican Council. We can see that this was an action of the Spirit to bring fresh air through the life of the Church.
These are just a couple of examples of discernment and how the Spirit can surprise us!
As we set out on our synodal journey we are called to enter into a prayerful discernment together in order to listen to the Spirit so as to serve the mission of the Church. The first phase consists of the first two years of listening to as many people as possible and what they would like to feed back. This is being overseen by a Steering Group, made up of men, women, ordained and religious and assisted by a task group. When we harvest what emerges out of this listening, we then will take the next steps towards our synodal assembly or assemblies.
As we set out on this journey, I am conscious of my own hopes and fears around the journey ahead. The following is an attempt to name those hopes and fears:
I fear the image of Synod as a “gathering in a hotel” where we will gather for a week or two. The “red button” issues will be debated, and decisions made. My fear is that we get caught up in our own agendas rather than the bigger picture which is the mission given to us by Jesus Christ.
I fear a sense of deeper polarisation and division. Some people want to see major change happening, others don’t want to see change happening at all. I fear that for some if change doesn’t happen as they would like to see it happen then there will be deep disappointment and disillusionment. For others if change does happen, then they will be disappointed and disillusioned. There is certainly a need for the Holy Spirit to navigate us.
Could our journey be more issue orientated rather than mission orientated? Our call as a community of disciples is to share Jesus Christ and the vision of his Gospel.
I fear that we might view this as a once off journey over the next few years. But perhaps this is inviting us into a way of being Church well beyond five years.
I mentioned earlier that my experience of Church has been a little like the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness, a sense of being a little bit lost! We’ve had the scandals, changes in society etc. I see this synodal journey as one of opportunity for us to reflect in a prayerful way together on where the Lord is calling us. Out of our experience of the last few decades, where are we being called to now by the Lord? Despite the challenges, there is a great opportunity in this!
I am hopeful that we can reflect upon the area of leadership in the Church. When leadership is mentioned in the Church sometimes our minds jump to the clerical system. Pope Francis has been strong in his condemnation of clericalism. This needs to be looked at further. Conversion is needed. But conversion is also needed in the hearts of people to take real responsibility for the life of the Church. I hope we can tease this out on our synodal journey.
My hope is that it will be a lifegiving journey for us. We’re not all the same, Pope Francis reminds us that “unity is not uniformity.” There will be tensions and disagreements along the way. The positive aspect is that there is still a real energy. The late Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher SJ outlined how apathy is the great enemy of the Church. I still believe we all want the best for the Church and now is our opportunity to harness that over these coming years. Even though some aspects of what we will be discussing will be in the Irish context I hope some of those discussions can inform the Universal Church also.
I hope the journey will look outwards with missionary zeal, that it won’t be an inward-looking journey. How do we reach out to the poor, the young, those who feel they don’t belong to the Church because of their life circumstances, the disillusioned, those who were hurt by the Church, those on the fringes? How do we bring the message of Christ into the public square in a real and credible way? I hope these bigger questions emerge.
I hope for genuine openness to the Spirit. In his address at the launch, Pope Francis reminded us of the attitude that says: “We have always done it this way” (EG 33) and the temptation not to change or that we apply “old solutions to new problems.” He sees the synodal journey as a process of becoming, an exciting and engaging effort that can draw us into communion and participation directed to mission. I hope the journey will be an exciting and engaging one for us which is rooted in Christ. We are all called to holiness, sometimes we can see this in a devotional sense. Origen said that holiness is being able to “see with the eyes of Christ.” I hope this synodal journey will help us to see with the eyes of Christ and that the concerns of all the baptised are listened to and that we try to work together to respond to those concerns.
In conclusion, as we set out on this journey of prayerful discernment, I return to the Scriptures to the beautiful story of the Road to Emmaus. It provides a wonderful insight into our synodal journey together. We are familiar with the story of the two disciples walking with heavy hearts, they are downcast, disillusioned. Many of us have been there. They have an encounter with the Risen Jesus. This encounter transforms them. They see things in a new light. The encounter literally turns their lives around. Then with hearts burning within them they have to share with others their encounter of the Risen Lord. This is the road we are now on. May we too encounter the Risen Lord as we take this journey together and may our hearts burn within us!
Day for Life is celebrated annually by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. It is a day dedicated to raising awareness of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition.
This year’s Day for Life will be celebrated in Ireland on Sunday 3 October on the theme ‘The Good Samaritan: A Model of Compassion’.
In the context of the recent proposal to introduce assisted suicide, both in Ireland and the UK, this year’s message invites Catholics to consider a more positive and compassionate response to the care of people who are in the final stages of life.
The Catholic Church’s approach to end of life care is well articulated in the recent Vatican document Samaritanus bonus on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life.
In that document we are reminded that Jesus gave us the image of the good Samaritan as the model for our compassion and our solidarity with those who find themselves vulnerable and who fear being abandoned in their final illness. The Good Samaritan is one who “crosses over”, who “binds up wounds” and who, most important of all “stays with” the person for as long as is required.
See below resources for use in parishes for the Day for Life including this year’s Pastoral Message in plain text and as a PDF download:
Day for Life Message of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference: ‘The Good Samaritan – A Model of Compassion’
The fragility of life and the reality of death have been brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Ireland alone, more than 8,000 people have died with Covid-19. Each of these lives is precious and every life matters. With a most amazing spirit of solidarity, the energies of our society – in hospitals, test centres, vaccination clinics, schools, churches, supermarkets and in so many other places – have been directed towards protecting those who were most vulnerable to disease. We have begun to see the fruits of those efforts.
While all of this was going on, the Oireachtas was being asked to discuss legislation to provide for assisted suicide. That particular piece of legislation, thank God, has been rejected by the Oireachtas Committee for Justice on the grounds that it was deeply flawed. The surprising and disappointing thing is that the Oireachtas Committee did not reject the principle of Assisted Suicide and has proposed that Assisted Suicide be discussed further by a special committee, which would report within a specified timeframe.
Compassion is often presented as a justification for assisted suicide, but having compassion means “suffering with” someone. Assisted suicide reflects a failure of compassion on the part of society. It is a failure to respond to the challenge of caring for people who are terminally ill, or who have disabilities or dementia, as they approach the end of their lives. Those who assist with a suicide, whatever their motives, co-operate with the self-destruction of another person. It is one thing when life is allowed to take its natural course, with appropriate management of pain and stress, but is not artificially prolonged by burdensome treatment. It is something else entirely, when one person actively and deliberately participates in ending the life of another.
One feature of the legalisation of Assisted Suicide in other jurisdictions is that, once it becomes lawful, it is then presented and perceived as something good to do. Instead of being surrounded by love and care, people who are already vulnerable and dependent on others due to their illness, are made to feel that assisted suicide would be “the decent thing to do”.
Assisted suicide presumes that there will be somebody with the required skills who is prepared to “assist” in bringing about the death of another person. Wherever assisted suicide is legalised, healthcare professionals are assumed to be the “suitably qualified persons” because they are already licensed to use drugs. It is important to be clear that healthcare professionals are given privileged access to the human body and to drugs for the express purpose of healing and alleviating pain. Any suggestion that they should be expected to assist and, under certain circumstances, actually perform the act that ends the life of another person, is seriously damaging to the ethos and the credibility of the healthcare professions.
Jesus gave us the image of the good Samaritan as the model for our compassion and our solidarity with those who find themselves vulnerable and who fear being abandoned in their final illness. The Good Samaritan is one who “crosses over”, who “binds up wounds” and who, most important of all “stays with” the person for as long as is required.
There is much that we can do to foster a culture of life. We can begin by overcoming our fear of talking honestly about death and dying. Dying is as natural and universal as living and breathing yet our society can make it difficult for people to talk about it. As Christians, of course, our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus will stand to us. For some, if not for all, the support of prayer, and the opportunity to share faith can be of great help.
The Hospice Care Movement fosters a culture of living well until the end. By doing normal things with people who are terminally ill, we can contribute to fostering their sense of being “normal”, which can often be undermined by the “routine of illness”. The experience of presence, companionship and even the acceptance of limitation and dependency, when we take time to appreciate them, can greatly enrich the later stages of life.
The attitude of Jesus towards the sick and towards those who are in any way marginalised, has much to teach us about the value of time spent caring for one another. Many of us, at times, are called to be carers in our own circle of family and friends. Others may find it possible to care for the carers. The bonds of friendship and solidarity that are developed and strengthened in caring relationships, extend beyond the carer and the one who is cared for to the whole of society.
On this Day for Life, we give thanks for the gift of life. We bring before God in prayer, in particular, all who are in the final stages of life and those who care for them.
For all who are trying to come to terms with a decline in their physical or mental capacity and who may be anxious or frustrated – that their distress may be met with understanding and with the kind of care that respects them as persons. Lord hear us.
For nurses and doctors and, especially, for all who work in end-of-life care – that God’s Spirit may be upon them, directing their words and actions, their decisions and their reactions, so that the healing power of Christ may work through them. Lord hear us.
For all who are afraid in the face of approaching death, and especially for those who may be inclined to lose hope – that they may be renewed in confidence and courage. Lord hear us.
For all who work in residential care centres for the elderly – that they may see in each resident the face of Christ. Lord hear us.
For our legislators and for all who are involved in the development and implementation of public policy – that their decisions and actions may always demonstrate respect for every human life and that they may never use their position to promote or to allow the taking of human life for any reason. Lord hear us.
For all our family members, friends and neighbours who have died, and for all who have died as a result of COVID-19 – that they may find peace and fulfilment in the company of Mary and of all the saints. Lord hear us.
Father, these are the prayers which we make to you, together with the unspoken prayers of our own hearts. We ask you to hear and answer them through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer of John Henry Newman May God continue to “support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done!” St. John Henry Newman
Canticle of Simeon At last all powerful master, You give leave to your servant to go in peace according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation, Which you have prepared for all nations; The light to enlighten the Gentiles And give glory to Israel your people Luke 2: 29-32
Lá Ár mBáis A Mhaighdean bheannaithe, a Mháthair Dé A Shoilse ghléigeal ta gan smál A choinneal shoilseach I láthair Dé Go raibh tu again lá ár mbáis Gairdín an Anama (An Sagart)
Dia Romham Glóir na n-aingeal ós mo chionn, Ola Chriost ar mo chorp, Dia go raibh romham agus liom Is duitse, a Chríost, m’anam bocht Gairdín an Anama (An Sagart)
Prayer to the Holy Family Jesus , Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul. Jesus , Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony Jesus , Mary and Joseph, make my soul in peace with you forever
Come to Me Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yoursouls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Matthew 11:28-30
A Prayer for those who are ill God our Father, we bring before you today those who suffer from illness or disability—those whose lives are profoundly affected by their illness.
When they feel fragile and broken, remind them that you call them by name and hold them in the palm of your hand.
When they feel devalued, remind them that they are made in the image Jesus.
When they are reminded of different times in the past, lead them to grow in the faith that you love them today, as they are, in the reality of their lives this day.
When they feel uncertain and fearful about the future, lead them to that perfect love which casts out all fear.
When situations remind them not of what they can do, but of what they cannot do, remind them that love never fails.
May all of us, whatever our circumstances, never be so taken up with our own concerns that we do not see or respond to the needs of others, especially those who suffer in our midst. May we live with courage to respond to the challenges that each of us faces. Amen.
(Catholic Health Association of the United States)
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