Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. The topic of climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. As part of this debate, there is a new urgency to harness renewal energy sources such as wind and solar power. What is certain is that in the future, instead of creating our own energy from fossil fuels, we will need to harness sources of energy that come from the natural world.
It is no co-incidence that the two main symbols of today’s feast of Pentecost are fire and wind. After the death of Jesus, the energies and hopes of the disciples were spent. But now, they were possessed by a new energy and a new life, not of their own making, but given to them by God himself. This was the life of the Spirit of God that breathed new life into each of them and that gave birth to the life to a young and vibrant Church.
Today’s feast of Pentecost has been earmarked as a day of thanksgiving for the completion of the diocesan phase of the synodal process, instigated by Pope Francis and completed here in Ferns under the leadership of Bishop Ger. Hopefully, everyone had the opportunity to participate in the four deanery meetings that took place before Easter that were energetic, challenging and yet hope-filled.
I was reminded of these meetings by a number of details from today’s readings that impress upon us how the early Church also followed a synodal path. It struck me that being Church today in a synodal way is not something new but is rather a recovery of how the Church was at the very beginning.
The first detail is that ‘they all met in one room’. This connects to the synodal gatherings that took place all over the world, where God’s people met and in encountering each other, became aware of the presence of the Spirit in our gatherings. The Spirit of Pentecost was very alive when we gathered, when met each other face to face, listened and spoke.
Then we are told that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them speech. Many people who participated in the synodal meetings remarked how they felt the freedom of the Spirit in being able to speak their truth without being judged. It was as if we were able to hear each other and speak in each other’s language. It certainly highlighted the importance of listening and the Spirit’s gift of understanding.
In his message last week for ‘World Communications Day’ last Sunday, Pope Francis reminded us that listening is a dimension of love. We might not agree with what the other might say but to listen carefully and respectfully is an act of love. He spoke about the danger of talking past one another and how dialogue is not a ‘duologue’ which is a monologue of two voices. True communication involves the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ moving out beyond themselves and reaching out to each other in love. It involves a readiness ‘to change one’s mind and to modify one’s initial assumptions’. Finally, he emphasises ‘the Apostolate of the ear’ - to listen before speaking. Freely giving some of our own time to listen to people is the first act of charity.
Overall, the synodal experience in our diocese has been unifying and life-giving. It has gathered people who care about their faith, who treasure that gift and who love their Church. The Gospel scene today is where Jesus breathes the Spirit on the disciples. Before his death at the Last Supper, he told them that ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you’. This synodal moment is a great teachable moment for us, led by the Spirit. We have learned that we can listen to each other, respect each other and in this notice where the Spirit is leading us. We have learned that journeying together is more important that journeying alone. We have learned to treasure what each person has shared. We have learned to notice that in our sharing the Spirit indicates the direction of the journey. We have also learned to remember what was shared, to treasure the sharing and to revisit it often to help us to discern the way ahead. We have also learned how the Holy Spirit has blessed our Church with many gifts and many people who are willing to participate fully in the life and mission of the Church.
Friends, the synodal path is a new way of being Church together as the family of God. It is a way of journeying together with closer bonds of respect and understanding as the Body of Christ. It is a way of harnessing the energy of the Holy Spirit in our midst that fills the sails of the Church as she moves along the open sea.
May the gift of the Holy Spirit lead us to communion, participation and mission so that we may journey to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right. Amen.