Editor’s note: This is the Bishop’s homily delivered at the Sunday, Oct. 17, Mass celebrating the opening of the Syracuse Diocesan Synod.
The leader of a certain Indian tribe encamped at the base of a mountain was dying. The chief summoned his three sons and said, “I am dying and one of you must succeed me as head of our tribe. I want each of you to climb our holy mountain and bring back something beautiful. The one whose gift is the most outstanding will succeed me.”
After several days the sons returned. The first brought his father a flower which grew near the summit and was extremely rare and beautiful. The second son brought his father a stone which was colorful, smooth and round, having been polished by the rain and windblown sand. The third son’s hand was empty.
He said, “Father, I have brought nothing back to show you. As I stood on top of the holy mountain, I saw that on the other side was a beautiful land filled with green pastures and a crystal lake. And I have a vision of where our tribe could go for a better life. I was so overwhelmed by what I saw and by what I was thinking that I could not bring anything back.” And the father replied, “You shall be our tribe’s new leader, for you have brought back the most precious thing of all—the gift of a vision for a better future.”
Dear brothers and sisters, this Lord’s Day you and I are being invited by the Word of God and the Church, our Mother, to enter more deeply into the meaning of our Baptism and the Chalice we share in each time we come to the high point of our week, our Sunday Eucharist. In this moment, sisters and brothers, our mission is defined; and we are invited to discover again the transformation of the mundane … of the suffering that seems so commonplace in our world … into a salvific act!
Today, Jesus tells us that by Baptism, you and I have an intimate share in his very living, dying, and rising … in the mantle of his servanthood! Furthermore, in the Communion we partake in, we are invited to let the seed of God’s life planted in us at Baptism to become ever more the Real Presence of Christ in the world today! Here in this place where new light is streaming, through the nurturing of Word and Sacrament, you and I are missioned to journey together to bring that gift of a vision for a better future contained herein into the public square and onto the crossroads of life.
Nonetheless, like our fellow apostles, there is the ever-present temptation to skip the journey and get to the glory. If there was only someway to get the assurance needed that in the end all of my efforts would be rewarded. Jesus gets the concern, but is insistent that the fruits one seeks will come about only through entering the journey with him. Still such a prospect may seem too heavy for you and me; that is why the Letter to the Hebrews invites us to approach “the throne of grace … to receive mercy … to find timely help.” Of course, “grace” is none other than the gift of God himself to accompany us!
There are three events this Sunday in the life of our Diocesan Church that might help us better understand what the Word of God is about on this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
First, our gathering at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to receive a relic of Pope St. John Paul II. Forty-three years ago this week on October 22, 1978, John Paul II formally inaugurated his ministry as Bishop of Rome and as the Servant of the Servants of God. On that occasion he stated: “Brothers and sisters, don’t be afraid to welcome Christ and to accept his power.” In other words, it is important for us to remember that Jesus Christ is present in human history; therefore, we have nothing to fear. Where does fear come from then? In the lives of the apostles, isn’t it when they tried to lock him out of their lives or run away from him?
This brings us then to our second event: the beginning of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome and the launching of our own Diocesan Synod. With the confidence that the Risen Christ is present to us through the working of the Holy Spirit—motivated by the desire for greater communion and participation in the Church’s mission as the Body of Christ in the world today—we set out on a journey together to see how we can better respond to what is asked of us by those persons we meet along the way. In this journey together, we are reminded that a synod is intended “to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hope flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission” (Synod Handbook, #1.3)
In our Gospel reading, however, we encounter one of the pitfalls of the journey … if it is only about me and my success! If anything, today’s Gospel scene reminds you and me that Jesus’ vision isn’t about me, myself, and I. In inaugurating his own ministry, the first thing Jesus did was to pay attention to what God’s Word was saying … to let God’s Word be enthroned in his heart. This was followed up by Jesus paying attention to those around him and to listening to what they were saying. If we look closely at Jesus’ life, it is in such settings that “miracles” occurred! So, this is where our synodal journey will begin with the enthronement of God’s Word and a unique exercise of listening throughout the entire Church.
This stance of listening is at the very heart of the call to being disciples in mission and directs us to the third event of this Sunday. This afternoon, the Church of Syracuse reflects upon our call to service. Appropriately, we (will) honor the members of our diaconal community who have been called to be a true icon of Christ, the Servant. Part of their service as deacons involves sharing the Word of God and the other involves the ministry of the cup; particularly, helping others drink of the cup. As Jesus’ own words attest to us today, to help others drink of the cup is to allow oneself to be poured out in service to others.
This afternoon ten candidates seeking diaconal ministry in the Diocese of Syracuse will be instituted as Lectors and Acolytes. Their action is a sign to every baptized Catholic Christian—that each one of us is part of the mission of preaching the Gospel … the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world—and that each one of us is called to offer ourselves daily to God as spiritual sacrifices so as to reveal God’s love to our neighbors.
Brothers and sisters, we started this homily out with a story about a son offering the gift of the vision of a better future. Now, you and I are invited to take up that mantle of servanthood as well and foster the Gospel vision of a better future found in the Name of Jesus! Amen.