MEETING, LISTENING, DISCERNING: FRANCIS KICKS OFF THE SYNOD
After participating in a moment of reflection as a prologue on Saturday in the Synod Hall with 300 participants from around the world, Pope Francis presided this Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica at the opening Mass of the synodal journey on synodality.
"The Gospels often show us Jesus on the road, walking alongside the man, listening to the questions that inhabit and move his heart," explained Francis in his homily, commenting on the Gospel of the day, which tells of Jesus' encounter with the rich young man. This story reveals that "God does not live in quiet, sanitized places, far from reality, but walks with us and meets us where we are, on the often difficult paths of life".
The Pope, therefore, invited each actor in the life of the Church, including himself, to ask himself whether he is "walking through history and sharing the challenges of humanity", or whether he is being overtaken by the temptations of withdrawal, routines, and habits.
"To "make Synod" means to walk on the same road, together. Let us look at Jesus on the road, who first meets the rich man, then listens to his questions, and finally helps him to discern what to do to have eternal life. Francis thus articulated his homily around these three verbs: "Meet, listen, discern".
Availability to meet
First of all, therefore, the encounter: when he met the rich young man, "the Lord did not stand at a distance, he did not show himself to be annoyed or disturbed; on the contrary, he stopped with him. He is available for the encounter. Nothing leaves him indifferent, everything fascinates him. Meeting faces, meeting eyes, sharing the story of each person: this is the closeness of Jesus," the Pope stressed, noting that "Jesus was not in a hurry, he did not look at his watch! He was always at the service of the person who met him".
The challenge of the Synod is not, therefore, to "organize events" or "reflect on problems in theory", but to cultivate "the art of encounter" by taking "the time to meet the Lord", and by encouraging the encounter between us. "Every encounter, as we know, requires openness, courage, and a willingness to be challenged by the face and story of the other. Even if we sometimes prefer to take shelter in formal relationships or wear a mask of circumstance, the encounter transforms us and often suggests new paths that we had not imagined we would take. This is often how God shows us the way forward, taking us out of our tired routines.
Everything changes when we are able to have real encounters with Him and with each other. Without formalisms, without pretexts, without calculations," insisted Pope Francis.
The courage to listen with the heart
The Pope then insisted on the importance of listening without being formal or superficial. Faced with the questions of the rich young man, Jesus "does not give a 'ritual' answer, he does not offer a ready-made solution, he does not pretend to answer politely in order to get rid of him and continue his journey. He listens. Jesus is not afraid to listen with the heart, and not only with the ears", "When we listen with the heart, but this is also what happens: the other person feels welcomed, not judged, free to tell about his or her experience and spiritual journey.
Francis, therefore, invited us to ask ourselves: "Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even if they have difficult life paths, to contribute to the life of the community without being prevented, rejected, or judged?" The Pope acknowledged that listening "is a slow exercise, which can be laborious, of learning to listen to each other - bishops, priests, religious and laity - avoiding artificial and superficial responses." But faced with the suffering of our contemporaries, Francis hammered home the point that indifference is the worst attitude. "Let's not soundproof our hearts, let's not become armored in our certainties. Certainties often close us in. Let's listen to ourselves," he insisted.
Discernment, to leave space for God
"Today's Gospel shows us that Jesus knows that the man in front of him is good and religious, that he practices the commandments, but he wants to lead him beyond the simple observance of the precepts. In dialogue, he helps him to discern," explained Francis, returning to this theme of discernment, central to Jesuit spirituality and to his pontificate. "He proposes that the person looks deep inside himself, in the light of the love with which Jesus, fixing his gaze on him, loves him, and to discern, in this light, what his heart is really attached to. In this way, he discovers that his good does not consist in adding other religious acts but, on the contrary, in emptying himself: selling what occupies his heart to leave space for God."
The Synod is therefore above all "a path of spiritual discernment, which is done in adoration, in prayer, in contact with the Word of God." It is not "an ecclesial convention, a study colloquium or a political congress, but an event of grace, a healing process led by the Holy Spirit. In these days, Jesus calls us, as he did with the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from what is worldly, and also from our closures and repetitive pastoral patterns. He calls us to ask ourselves what God wants to say to us in this time and in what direction he wishes to lead us."
"May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel, open to the surprises of the Spirit. Let us not lose the opportunities of the grace of meeting, of listening to each other, of discernment. With the joy of knowing that while we are looking for the Lord, it is he who is the first to come to us with love," concluded the Holy Father.
At the end of the Mass, the Pope symbolically blessed several lay faithful from around the world, representing the People of God, who will be directly involved in this two-year synodal journey. After this opening Mass in Rome, another launching celebration will be celebrated next weekend in all the dioceses of the world, the first step of this Synod in a new format, in which all believers and all people of goodwill are invited to get involved.