Archbishop Gagnon's Homily at the Synod Opening Mass

November 3, 2017, St. John XXIII Church

One of the unexpected blessings that has come from our experience of an Archdiocesan Synod, at least from my perspective as your shepherd, has been the realization and the challenge, that we are being called by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to be more and more, a Synodal Church. What does this mean?

I recently returned from a day and a half of reflection with members of one of our Catholic institutions. It became apparent that there were real challenges lying under the surface such as poor communication between members, feelings of being unappreciated, lack of collaborative efforts in doing the mission of the institution and little awareness of problems that people were simply not talking about. The answer to such situations which are not uncommon in the Church, is living our Church life in a synodal way. The word Synod means to walk together. It means that one seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that we do; it means that we structure into our Church life, opportunities for prayer and listening ; opportunities for being heard; it means considering what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church for the good of all. In the highly secular environment we live in, this is not easy!

What we have been seeking to practice during our Archdiocesan Synod is precisely this, walking in the light of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. In all our meetings, decision making and planning, our faith in Christ must be at the centre. In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds us that if we have felt any encouragement through our relationship with Jesus Christ and if we have been consoled in knowing him and if we have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then there is every good reason to do seek to do this. What Paul asked the Philippians to do, demonstrates a Synodal attitude: “… be of the same mind, having the same love….Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interest but to the interest of others.” I have been stressing during our Synod that our deliberations are concerning the whole Local Church, not just our own situation or personal view. What is the Holy Spirit saying to the Church?

We are about to enter our 1st General Synod Session tomorrow morning. We are all quite aware that the various stages of the Synod over the past year-the establishing of a Secretariat, the Preliminary Commission, the Listening Sessions, the Focus Commissions, the White Papers –all these had to be planned and structured so that the People of God could have the opportunity to enter into the spirit of the Synod. So too, developing a Synodal way of being Church in the future, requires planning, effort and a sincere heart.

As a point of reference, our First Reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that God is never far from us and he is not difficult to find –Moses says that: “…the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” Moses is speaking about entering into a relationship with God with a sincere and open heart. That is how we must approach these General Sessions of our Synod. The word “sincere” means pure, unmixed, genuine, and truthful. And just as the word of God is always close to us, so is the Holy Spirit always close to us as we enter our General Synod Sessions with the task of discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying to the whole Church when we consider the various proposals which have come forth from the People of God through our Synod process. Let us remember that we all have received the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and Confirmation and through faith this faith in Christ , we have been Established and Anointed in Christ –and now Sent – sent out into this Synod process. We find encouraging words in our Psalm today:

Lord, you have the words of eternal life –The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes…More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter are they than honey, and drippings from the honeycomb.

We have chosen the image of the Washing of the Feet as our Biblical motif for our Synod and we have asked the question: What does it mean to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ today and how are we to live out this Discipleship in these modern times of great challenge?

In the account of the Washing of the Feet there are two movements: (1) Being washed by the Lord, and; (2) We, in turn, wash the feet of others. Being washed by Jesus has everything to do with being established and anointed in Christ. To be made Holy by God’s Redemptive Grace: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” All of our pastoral endeavors, this Synod, and everything else we do must be seen through the lens of Holiness –we are the “anointed ones in Christ” and we are called by Christ to draw others to him –one of the key themes of the Second Vatican Council.

At the same time we are sent in Christ to teach all nations and to Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are to be disciples on a mission –Missionary Disciples: “For I have set you an example that you should do what I have done to you.”

In all the listening we have participated in, and in all the discernment that has occurred, there have been three general concerns in the hearts of the People of God and these concerns we now realize correspond to being washed by Jesus and washing the feet of others: (1) The need to know our faith and to be formed in it; (2) The need to pass on our faith to the next generations; (3) The need to reach out to those on the peripheries.

After he had washed their feet and returned to the table, Jesus said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Let us rise then and be on our way –on our way to our Synod and on our way to be a Synodal Church lived actively in the world!

Go Back