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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ Synod: A Time of Grace, Building Church Together

This past week, on October 4 the “Synod on Synodality” opened in Rome. Two years ago (October 2021) Pope Francis launched the preparation for this event. As he did so, he set the course for a journey by our whole church community – a global community, lay and clerical, women and men, from every corner of the world. This past week, our community of faith around the world set out on our synodal journey.

Building on the foundation provided by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Pope Francis recalled the experience of that council. In his opening address for the current synod on October 9, 2021, he indicated some of the hopes and dreams, and his confidence in this great journey for our global church: I am certain the Spirit will guide us and give us the grace to move forward together, to listen to one another and to embark on a discernment of the times in which we are living, in solidarity with the struggles and aspirations of all humanity.

The journey we are now experiencing is one that we must make together, confident that the Spirit will be our guide. The word “synod” comes from the Greek word meaning “to travel together”. Pope Francis noted three terms which should characterize our synodal journey as we “travel together” – communion, participation and mission. These were words that marked Vatican II and now it is time to recall them and reassert our commitment to them as Church.

Back in 2021, as he ended his address which began the synod process, Pope Francis referred to it as “a season of grace”. He indicated three hopes that we might have as church. Firstly, that of moving not occasionally but structurally towards a synodal Church, an open square where all can feel at home and participate. Secondly, that we might become a listening Church, to break out of our routine and pause from our pastoral concerns in order to stop and listen. Thirdly, [the synod] offers us the opportunity to become a Church of closeness. Francis refers to this as God’s own “style” – filled with compassion and love.

One might say that the synod experience for our global church offers all of us the opportunity to recognize our sacred space, for all peoples. Such a space, is not so much a physical space, but an occasion of the heart, a space of life-giving and love for all. In the Old Testament, Israel discovered this in their journey through the desert. It was there they came to see themselves as the “People of God”. The journey was an occasion of the heart for them.

We need our sacred spaces and, whether we realize it or not, we all have our sacred spaces. We are reminded of how important such spaces are by the image we see in the readings of this weekend. The image is of the vineyard. We hear of it in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah (5:1-7). The vineyard is the subject of a love song. We hear of it again, in the psalm response: “The vineyard of the Lord in the house of Israel.” Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel (21:33-43), we hear Jesus telling a story, a parable about the harvest in the vineyard.

For Isaiah, for the psalm and for Matthew, the vineyard is the place of God among us, it is the Reign of God growing in the midst of our world. It is the space that defines us as a People of God. In all the confusion, in all the busyness of our lives, to gather with this people is to gather in a sacred space, a community to which we belong, a life-giving community. How open can we be with our sacred space?

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