Pope Francis formally opened the Synod of Bishops on Sunday, 10 October, with a solemn Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
Faithful from around the world – including laymen and -women, priests, seminarians, women and men religious, cardinals and bishops – took part in the liturgy, which marked the beginning of a two-year synodal process.
In his homily, Pope Francis took the day’s Gospel reading, recounting Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man, as the starting point for a reflection on synodality: “Celebrating a Synod,” he said, “means walking on the same road, together.”
Following the example of Jesus, he emphasized three verbs that characterize the Synod: encounter, listen, and discern.
In the Gospels, we often see Jesus on a journey, open to an encounter with those He meets along the way, present to them, and concerned about their questions. Like Jesus, the Pope said, “we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter.”
This involves an openness to God, taking time for prayer and adoration, and listening to what the Holy Spirit tells us.
It also requires openness to others, as well as courage and “a willingness to allow ourselves to be challenged by the presence and the stories of others.
Pope Francis that a true encounter only comes through listening to others, noting that Jesus listens not just with the ears, but with the heart. When we follow Jesus in listening with the heart, “people feel they are being heard, not judged; they feel free to recount their own experiences and their spiritual journey.”
The Pope invited us to ask ourselves if we are good at listening, if we allow others to express themselves. He said that the Holy Spirit is asking us to listen to the “questions, concerns, and hopes of every Church,” and to the challenges and changes presented by the world around us.”
“Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties,” he pleaded. Instead, “Let us listen to one another.”
Pope Francis insisted that “encounter and listening are not ends in themselves,” but must lead to discernment. “Whenever we enter into dialogue,” he explained, “we allow ourselves to be challenged, to advance on the journey.”
As with the rich young man, Jesus helps us to discern, “to look within” and to discover what God reveals to us, “to discern in that light” what our hearts “truly treasure.”
This “is a valuable lesson to us,” Pope Francis said, adding that “the Synod is a journey of spiritual discernment that takes place in adoration, in prayer, and in dialogue with the Word of God.”
Where God is leading us
In these days of the Synod, the Pope said, “Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models; and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time – and the direction in which He wants to lead us.”
“Let us have a good journey together,” Pope Francis said in conclusion. He expressed the hope that we might be “pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Spirit.” And he urged us not to miss out “on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening, and discernment.”