Archbishop Cushley marked the beginning of the Synod process in our Archdiocese with Holy Mass at St Mary's Cathedral today.
In his homily he explained the three themes of the Synod - communion, participation and mission.
He said: "As we pray for the success of the upcoming Synod, the Holy Father asks us to be faithful to our communion; to open our hearts and our minds to his Spirit and his Word; and to train ourselves for mission, spiritually, intellectually and morally.
"Then we will be ready to participate worthily and maturely in the renewal of the Church of Christ that we all of us long very much to see."
Sr Anna Marie McGuan, the Archdiocesan synod delegate for the Synod, spoke at the end of Mass, calling for us to put Jesus, "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6) at the centre of the process as we seek to do His will for the Church.
Homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley - Sunday Mass for the opening of the consultation on the Synod
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
By the Holy Father’s wish, today has become the day when all the local churches throughout the world have been invited to pray for the success of the next synod to be held in Rome in 2023.
The Holy Father wishes to encourage the Church throughout the world to re-awaken its potential in addressing today’s challenges, and in how we propose the Good News of salvation to a world that either does not know or does not care about Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis proposes to do so, by asking us to consider three themes: communion, participation and mission. He wishes us to do so by placing the Word of God at the centre of our preparations and reflections.
As the Holy Father rightly emphasises, the Catholic Church is constituted as a communion. It is gathered around the Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, and through the koinonia, or communion, shared between the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome, we here are all held in a communion which is effective and affective.
That communion is something as essential to who we are as a Church, and it is as essential to our existence as it is delicate. St Ignatius of Antioch, a figure from the very earliest pages of the Church, and whose feast we celebrate today, leaves us a memory of the Church’s self-understanding from those times just after the Apostles that has always remained central to how the Catholic Church sees herself. He writes that wherever the bishop is, there is the church.
In his days, there were already those who, although professing Christ, thought differently from their bishop, celebrated their Masses separately, thought themselves better, purer, holier, than their fellow Catholics gathered around the bishop. But, Ignatius taught that, to be part of the communion, you must be in and stay in communion with the bishop. Among many other examples of the real and painful struggle to maintain communion is St Athanasius.
He was mistreated and exiled many times, even at the order of the Christian authorities, before finally, not long before he died, he was able to return home to his See. For many years, he was exiled because of his faith in the divinity of Christ, but Athanasius held that even if the Catholic faith is in the minority, it is still the Catholic faith. Time and trials proved him right, and he has remained an inspiration throughout the centuries, to faithfulness and to communion with the universal Church.
Pope Francis also urges us to consider the theme of participation. His remarks, aimed at the whole Catholic world in every country, will be seen in a different context in each land. Here, in this country, Catholics are among those who have been excluded by wider society. Catholics living in Scotland only achieved economic parity at the end of the 1980s.
The Scots-Irish Catholic community, to which most of us have a connection, was “excluded” from society for a very long time.
So, we know what exclusion, and being on the periphery, looks and feels like. Knowing what it is like ought to help all of us understand the Holy Father’s insight here, and I hope it will help remind us of lessons we should have already learned over the generations, of how to react to those who mistrust us and our motives, responding with an open heart, when the opportunity presents itself.
Remembering what it was like for us, and or those who came before us, let us be neighbours and friends to all whom we meet, without exception. Let us not forget our Christian duty of charity to all on the margins, and not least our own people.
By doing so, we will also honour those who have gone before us.
Thirdly, the Holy Father asks us to revisit our sense of mission. It is true that we have lost much of our sense of mission over the last decades. When I was young, we were encouraged to give a few pennies from our dinner money to help children in the countries we called the “mission countries”. We have learned to be slightly embarrassed by it now, and to judge, using modern standards, the way this charity was packaged.
Our missionary action now on behalf of these countries is sadly diminished, but having lived and worked in various countries abroad, I know how it remains every bit as welcome now as it was then. Our financial help to the Catholic Church in Asia, Africa, or the Americas is something that was extremely important to those local churches, but it has waned and our enthusiasm for it has cooled.
We like to think that, today, we are less patronising or more enlightened, but our supposed enlightenment has reduced the real missionary outreach of the local church in those countries, and I know they still welcome warmly the help of their wealthier brothers and sisters.
In the meantime, “mission” has become something that refers also to proclaiming the good news with our own lives and in our own countries, and it is true that many in our own land believe they have outgrown Christianity and its cultural legacy. Its message of salvation in Jesus Christ is one that now receives the world-weary answer that St Paul first heard when he proclaimed the good news to the Greeks.
To the call to belief in the Risen Lord, they laughed, or simply said, “Let’s hear about this another time” and moved on. As far as the west today is concerned, the Holy Father is right to point out how our Christian lands have lost their way, how Christian ethics have been replaced by money, power and the vanity of social media, and how we have returned to being “mission” countries, in need of the Word of God.
Praying for the Synod's success
My dear friends, as Pope Francis urges us, let us therefore pray for God’s Holy Spirit and his enlightenment. But, before we go out to convert society, let us put our own house in order first. Let us form ourselves through prayer and penance, and let us train ourselves to be authentic missionary disciples who draw people to Christ more by our example, than by easy words and the accommodation of the world and its agenda.
As we pray for the success of the upcoming Synod, the Holy Father asks us to be faithful to our communion; to open our hearts and our minds to his Spirit and his Word; and to train ourselves for mission, spiritually, intellectually and morally.
Then we will be ready to participate worthily and maturely in the renewal of the Church of Christ that we all of us long very much to see. Amen.