During this month of October, the Church has officially begun a journey of reflection, consultation, speaking and listening, which will culminate in a Synod on Synodality in October 2023. The word Synod literally means “journeying together.” The process of the Synod is meant to help us reflect on how we journey together as a Church especially by listening to all its members, and even those outside, in order that we might hear the Holy Spirit. Synodality is an integral part of the life and ministry of Pope Francis and we have come to experience this in all aspects of his papacy.
In emphasizing the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis reminds us of how Elijah the prophet was listening for God to speak to him in the wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but it was only in a small whisper that God spoke to him where he least expected to hear the Holy Spirit (cf 1 Kings 19:11-13). The Pope further reminds us that, in the Book of Numbers (22: 8ff), it was “a donkey who became the prophet of God.” When Balaam, the seer, refusing to listen to God, but rather to the king, set out on a donkey to do as the king wanted, the donkey saw an angel with an unsheathed sword. The donkey turned away from the road, even when Balaam tugged at the reins and beat the animal. Finally. the donkey opened his mouth and spoke. Pope Francis reflects, “This story teaches us to trust that the Spirit will always make His voice heard. Even a donkey can become the voice of God, can open our eyes, and change our course when we go astray. If a donkey can do that, how much more can a baptized person, a priest, a bishop, a Pope do it? We need to rely on the Holy Spirit, who uses all of creation to speak to us: He only asks us to clean out our ears, to hear better.”
As we begin the process of the Synod, we do so during the month of October which is the month of the Rosary. The Rosary is always an extraordinary means of mediation for us on the life and ministry of Christ. However, it might be well, at this time, to reflect upon the journey which the Rosary takes us through, especially in the life of our Blessed Mother. Mary, in a quiet but powerful way, reminds us of what the core message of synodality is all about. Just reflecting upon the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary shows us the aspect of journeying together which was integral to Mary’s life.
In the first Joyful Mystery, Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel which she never expected. She opens her ears and her heart to hear what the angel says but does not completely understand it. However, her openness to listening and following the word of God enables the Holy Spirit to come to her and allows the Son of God to become incarnate within her. From her encounter with the angel, Mary journeys to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, as we reflect in the second Joyful Mystery. In this scene, both women speak to each other from their hearts, and literally from their wombs, to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them of the joy which only listening to the word of God can bring. In the third Joyful Mystery, we encounter Mary at the Birth of Christ in Bethlehem. However, it was the last place she expected to give birth to the Son of God. She had to journey with Joseph, speaking with many people along the way, finally to arrive at the manger where God was born in our human form. In the fourth Joyful Mystery, we encounter Mary and Joseph journeying to the temple for the Presentation of Christ. Here they unexpectedly encounter Simeon and Anna and through their listening to them, hear the promise of God fulfilled. Finally, in the fifth Joyful Mystery, we encounter Mary and Joseph losing Jesus in the temple and journeying to find Him as he astonishes the teachers and religious leaders. They hear the Lord speak to them words they did not expect, but words to which they were open as they took him back home. Mary treasured all of these things in her heart.
Mary’s life is one of journeying and listening. She encounters God where she least expected to find Him, especially within her own womb. Because of Mary, the Holy Spirit enters the world in the Pentecost of the Lord’s conception in her and begins to speak through Mary in words that are quiet, but most powerful. I personally find it fascinating to note, in view of Pope Francis’ words about how “even a donkey can become the voice of God,” that tradition has depicted Mary traveling on a donkey in the images of her journeying at the time of Christ’s birth. Mary heard the voice of God through all His Creation in every man and woman she encountered. Many encountered in Mary the Lord where they least expected to find Him.
As we begin the process of the Synod, let us look to Mary, our Mother, the Patroness of our Diocese, as a model for our journey together as the Church of God here in the Diocese of Palm Beach. As we celebrate the 37th anniversary of the foundation of our Diocese on October 24, may we continue our journey together as one family of God, listening to the Holy Spirit among us, always with the assistance of Mary, Queen of the Apostles.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 22, 2021