This Sunday is called is called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, from St Paul’s words in the Entrance verse of the Mass: ‘Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I say to you rejoice.’ There’s joy because Christmas is approaching, the Lord Jesus is coming, the great hope and consolation of our hearts. Today too we have another reason to be joyful – the publication of our post-Synod exhortation and our Diocesan Plan 2016-2016 entitled: “Moving Forward Together in Hope”.
It’s just two years since, here in St. John’s Cathedral, I formally convoked a Diocesan Synod that would the first in 80 years. The past two years been a wonderful journey leading to the great three days together of our Synod held at Mary Immaculate College in April. They were an event of the Holy Spirit, an experience of deep encounter, a time of hope. We could say the Synod was an “Advent” experience, linked to the coming of the Lord among us in our Diocese a new way.
The image of it that I treasure is one found on our Synod website – the hall in Mary Immaculate College with 400 people, lay, priests, single and married, young and older, gathered together in circles working hard but joyfully at discerning what God was calling us to as a Diocese.
This evening I cannot but thank all who contributed to the Synod process especially the delegates of the Synod, including the priests, who gave so generously of their time and energy. I am grateful to the members of the Preparatory Commission, especially Fr. Éamonn Fitzgibbon, Synod Director, and Ms. Karen Kiely, Synod administrator and others who took on specific roles and gave valuable advice during these two years.
I know many of the delegates are here this evening. I greet you with heartfelt admiration for your commitment during these two years. Many of you have told me you appreciated the formative experience the Synod turned out to be for them. As it was for me too. Let us thank God for this gift we have all received.
Now your specific commitment with regard to the Synod has concluded with the publication of the post-Synod exhortation and our Diocesan Plan 2016-2026. The journey of the Synod now passes over into and continues in the normal life of the Church. As part of the plan there will be annual conferences, such as for parish councils, and other moments to review the implementation of the Synod’s indications. I will be sending our Diocesan Plan to Rome along with a letter in the form of a Report on the Synod, mentioning the directions that emerged in our Synod and specifically referring to some of the topics not on the Synod agenda but about which were highlighted on the last day.
The prophet Isaiah in our first reading tells us: ‘Your God…is coming to save you.’ Eight centuries before Christ, Isaiah was speaking to a people anxiously waiting for the end of their exile and the return to their homeland. At a time when we experience that it is not always easy for the Church, it is good to hear the Lord’s promise: the Lord will come and save you.
We know that a Synod is one of the ways in the Church that we let the Lord intervene in our community and hear his voice. So, the plan that has emerged from the Synod is an appointment with history. It is important we all take on board the indications reaching us from the Synod. And that we do so together lay faithful, priests, religious, young people and older. I invite you, then, to take the plan, read and reflection on it, personally and together in groups, and, as a parish or community.
It is important, however, that we read it not as some sort of DIY manual. The Diocesan plan has to be read alongside our reading of the Gospel which is The Diocesan plan for all time. And the Gospel today has to be read together. I am convinced that our Diocesan plan will bear fruit to the extent we allow the Gospel live our lives, guiding us along the paths of God’s will. A rediscover of the Word of God is always at the heart of renewal in the Church. Earlier today, I found myself asking myself: how far have I let the Gospel really shape my own life, the life of my engagement in diocesan matters, the way we go about our evangelising mission? Or is it vaguely present in my life, read at mass and thought about and then? Should it not be the viaticum (food for the journey) that we have with us right throughout the day?
The Diocesan plan must also be read as a launching pad to go out, as Pope Francis so often reminds us, in missionary discipleship. The Church is not an end in itself. Our parish, our structures, not even the sacraments are an end in themselves. Recently, I was struck by a definition of the Church’s pastoral activity as “the movement with which the Gospel through the Church reaches human realities”. We need to keep our horizons broad. This is what John the Baptist discovered when he asked Jesus if he was the one who was coming. Jesus replied by indicating the works of mercy that he was doing: “Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me”. The Lord comes into our community through concrete deeds of mercy and love towards one another. This generates Jesus’s mystical presence among us, the perennial Christmas, but all of this is in view of transforming the world around us.
Perhaps we can all ask ourselves: are there initiatives, no matter how small, our parish or community or group or I myself might take to help, for instance, the plight of the homeless and the migrants. Perhaps we don’t have any directly in our parish or village or town but that doesn’t prevent us helping others elsewhere. We can all do something more to assist those suffering from mental health issues, families needing greater support, young people needing to feel more connected to us… There can be no doubt Pope Francis encourages us to move more in the direction of doing, personally and as parish and diocese, works of mercy so that people can hear and see Jesus in today’s world that so often finds it hard to hear and see him.
Sometimes we might feel what we have to offer is small compared to the challenges we are facing in the Church and in the world today. We can get discouraged. But let’s remember something Mother Teresa said. She lived in Calcutta with enormous problems. She said that all she could do was but a drop in the ocean compared with the problems. But, she added, that drop is important. If I don’t give that drop then the ocean would be missing something.
My hope and prayer this evening is that we now take our Diocesan plan, communicate it to many (and we will be publishing a supplement on it next weekend) and pray that the Holy Spirit will cause many new green shoots of life to appear throughout the Diocese. Jesus who is Life wants to come among us and offer new green shoots. Perhaps we won’t all see these shoots grow but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we do our part to let them take root. And then, certainly, we need to rely a lot on the Holy Spirit.
I conclude the prayer we find on the last page of the Bible, the prayer of the first Christians as they set out to implement the Gospel the Lord had given them: “The Spirit and the bride (the Church) say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus! Come!