My friends, the Scriptures for this Sunday speak a great deal about “listening”—to ourselves and to others, in order that we might have a better understanding of who we are—what God may be calling us to, and what others in our world may be needing from us. Because you see, for the Christian follower of our brother Jesus, it is very much about action on our parts—we can’t just “hear” the Word and do nothing—this is clearly not acceptable.
I belong to a Franciscan Life Group (FLG) as a Cojourner with the Rochester, Minnesota order of Franciscan Sisters, that this past week was finally able to meet in person after all the months of COVID where only Zoom gatherings were possible.
Our topic for reflection was the volume of ideas and concerns that have been raised over the past couple of years under the title, Synod on Synodality called for by Pope Francis. This synod or any synod is a time when the laity and the bishops, especially the bishops, are encouraged to truly “listen” to one another, so as to perhaps make concrete decisions for change to make our Church more inclusive, open, and vibrant. As you might expect, our discussion of a half hour was only able to scratch the surface of the needs out there to make our Church more inclusive, open, and vibrant.
I told my life group that when I heard of this synod two years ago, I didn’t approach it with much enthusiasm as I still remember a like process done in the 1980’s—for a pastoral letter on women. Thoughts and comments from women were sought from around the world. The letter went through four revisions with the first draft the most complete and telling about what women were asking for, and by the time the fourth and final draft appeared, the beautiful and complete statements of what women wanted and needed from their Church were completely gutted. But when those who have the power within the Church represent only half of the people, (the men) this is to be expected.
When I did my pastoral project for my master’s degree from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Pastoral Ministries in 1999, I chose to study and write about clericalism and lack of voice for women within our Church under the title, Excluded by Birth, Diminished by Language: A Case for Inclusivity Within the Catholic church. I had the rare privilege of working with then, Bishop Raymond Lucker of the New Ulm diocese in Minnesota as he was implementing a system of lay pastoral administrators in his diocese to cover for the lack of male priests.
I had hoped to eventually have my research published and tried several avenues to have that done, and other than being able to place a hard-bound copy of it in the university library, that was the extent of sharing the word of how one bishop was “listening” to his people and doing what he could to allow the voices of lay women and men, as well as women religious to be heard.
A final note might be to add that we were in the long papacy of John Paul II who basically was not listening, so in many respects, other than the National Catholic Reporter, not many other publications were willing to “listen” either.
The prophet Amos is attempting today through the first reading to get the people of his time to “listen,” and his issue was the “poor” and he speaks rather forcefully relaying God’s displeasure of those who “trample on the needy” [for their own gain].
It is important for us all to remember that people are “poor” in many ways. In the discussion of “synodality” or any other synod issue, when all the voices are not heard, we are all a poorer people. Our second reading today from Timothy speaks in a general way to this issue, where he says, “there should be prayers offered for everyone…[this] will please God…who wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.” When we listen, truly listen, to another and hear perhaps, a reality other than our own, we give the very best “prayer” to another.
The gospel from Luke today has a somewhat confusing message from our brother Jesus. We may have found ourselves asking, is Jesus really praising the dishonest steward who is trying to save himself from ridicule and/or punishment? Exegetes tell us “No” and that Jesus is really lifting up the “creativity” of the steward in finding a solution that ultimately helps others.
Within our FLG, I shared my frustration with Church leaders who justify their inaction or inability to truly hear the needs of their people with the adage: “the Church moves slowly!” As one of our members said, “Well that is just an excuse!”
Going back once more to Luke’s gospel for today, our brother Jesus ends his teaching with, “You cannot worship God and money.” Again, looking broadly at Jesus’ words, “money” can be seen as a catchall for whatever stands in the way of “worshipping God” through our actions in the world. We can certainly look at “power” in that sense and our Church hierarchy’s strong grasp of it!
Clericalism, that need for men to stand alone as the only conduit for the message of the Spirit is truly about “power” and their need to hold on to it. Not much that is truly good can be accomplished through this synod or any other until this issue of clericalism is addressed.
So my friends, in Timothy’s words once again, [let each of us offer] “prayers for everyone,” that we might be good “listeners” of all the stories and strive to address all the needs expressed. Amen? Amen!