Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-5; Matthew 21:28-32
On Wednesday in Rome, the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will commence a three week session. The 464 participants will then reconvene for a second session in a year’s time. This is Pope Francis’ big project: the synod on synodality.
The working document called the Instrumentum Laboris (IL)commences by setting the global context:
‘These include the reality of too many wars that stain our world with blood leading to a call for a renewed commitment to building a just peace, the threat represented by climate change that implies a necessary priority of caring for the common home, the cry to oppose an economic system that produces exploitation, inequality and a throwaway culture, and the desire to resist the homogenising pressure of cultural colonialism that crushes minorities. Situations of persecution to the point of martyrdom and emigration that progressively hollow out communities, threatening their very survival are deeply lamented.’
For starters, you can imagine more than a handful of bishops from countries like the USA bristling at being invited to commence a serious study of the church by reflecting on issues such as climate change, colonialism and economic inequality. The lines are already drawn.
The drafters of IL insist that it ‘is not a document of the Church’s Magisterium, nor is it the report of a sociological survey; it does not offer the formulation of operational indications, goals and objectives, nor a full elaboration of a theological vision’. It is simply a working aid setting out ‘some of the priorities that emerged from listening to the People of God’. There will be sure to be some bishops in attendance preferring to start with what they regard as an accurate statement of the Church’s Magisterium or at least with a document which is explicit about its theological vision.
IL admits: ‘The face of the Church today bears the signs of serious crises of mistrust and lack of credibility. In many contexts, crises related to sexual abuse, and abuse of power, money and conscience have pushed the Church to a demanding examination of conscience’. It insists that a synodal Church needs to confront ‘honestly and fearlessly the call to a deeper understanding of the relationship between love and truth’. Francis’ critics will be saying that one can never alter truth, even in the name of love. They will probably have a different take on the abuse of conscience, thinking that this papacy has accorded too much latitude to individual conscience in conflict with authority.
Taking up the Pope’s Jesuit commitment to discernment, the document states that ‘discernment is needed, which also pays attention to marginal and prophetic voices and does not overlook the significance of the points on which disagreement emerges.’
The document dares to ask ‘whether there are limits to our willingness to welcome people and groups, how to engage in dialogue with cultures and religions without compromising our identity, and our determination to be the voice of those on the margins and reaffirm that no one should be left behind.’
There are then five worksheets which set out the plethora of issues to be discussed by the 35 working groups, including the situation of the divorced and remarried, those who are LGBTQ+, the place of women in the Church, and the role of clergy needing to avoid the scourge of clericalism.
Only 81 of the 464 participants are women. Women constitute only 54 of the 365 voting members. One of the worksheets states: ‘There is a profound need to imitate the Lord and Master in the ability to live out a seeming paradox: “boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance”.’
Without directly raising the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood, another worksheet states: ‘The women who participated in the first phase expressed a clear desire that society and the Church be places of growth, active participation and healthy belonging for all women. They ask the Church to be at their side to accompany and promote the realisation of this. A synodal Church must address these questions together, seeking responses that offer greater recognition of women’s baptismal dignity and rejection of all forms of discrimination and exclusion faced by women in the Church and society.’
You will understand why I wrote to one participant in the Synod wishing him well, having to engage in so much deep listening on such a range of issues with hundreds of participants starting from positions of passionate disagreement. Not everyone in attendance will be friends in the Lord. All of them are being invited to listen to the Spirit, as are we, as we await the outcome of this huge listening exercise.
The day before the Synod opens, there is a one day conference being held in Rome entitled ‘The Synodal Tower of Babel’ with speakers such as Cardinal Raymond Burke who has already written: ‘Synodality and its adjective, synodal, have become slogans behind which a revolution is at work to change radically the Church’s self-understanding, in accord with a contemporary ideology which denies much of what the Church has always taught and practiced.’ 
This weekend, Timothy Radcliffe OP is leading the participants in a three day retreat in preparation for the synod. Let’s pray with them those profound words from Paul to the Philippians in this Sunday’s second reading:
Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus.
 XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Instrumentum Laboris for the First Session, October 2023, p.6,available at https://www.synod.va/content/dam/synod/common/phases/universal-stage/il/ENG_INSTRUMENTUM-LABORIS.pdf
 Ibid, p.8.
 Ibid, p. 13
 Ibid, p. 14
 Ibid, p. 17
 Ibid, p.33
 Ibid, p. 45.