This week, we will ensure the updating of the Synod website, and that updated documents will be sent to members of Synod – Synod Members, Synod Participants and Interested People. At this stage, it looks like there will be about 300 people attending the Synod. Over the coming weeks, our Synod theologians, canonist, along with a couple of other people, will provide us with some reflective videos to continue our formation in synodality, discernment, collaboration and co-responsibility. Our diocese has been on a synodal path since the late 1980’s and our present Synod is part of that ongoing journey of journeying with, encounter and accompaniment.
Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 15:1-8) provides us with a beautiful image of what synodality looks like:
I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower…Live on in me, as I do in you. No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, can you bear fruit apart from me. I am the vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated from me, you can’t produce anything.
My Sunday Missal provides a beautiful introduction to the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B) readings:
“Remain in me” – The branches of a vine will bear fruit only if they are attached to the vine. It is from the vine that they draw the life-giving nourishment they need. Likewise, we must remain attached to Jesus if we are to receive the life of God and produce the fruits of the Spirit in our world: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
I have been aware for several years of the French film Des Hommes Et Des Dieux (Of Gods and Men) and while reading Timothy Radcliffe’s book, Alive in God - A Christian Imagination, I was reminded of the power of this film and drawn to watch it, which Allen and I did. For those of you who may not have seen it, you will find it on SBS on Demand with subtitles, unless you speak or understand fluent French. The title refers to a verse from the Psalms which is quoted at the beginning of the movie:
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. (Psalm 82:6-7)
The film centres on a monastery in Algeria, where nine Cistercian monks live in harmony with the largely Muslim population, until seven of them are kidnapped and assassinated in 1996 during the Algerian Civil War. The monks are aware of the danger that faces them, and during the course of the film, they come to a consensus on the moral importance of maintaining their committed lives with, and ministry to, the local population, even when faced with violence and death.
The following is one of the exchanges that occurs during the film, and which speaks of the community’s search for their ministry and ongoing commitment:
Christophe: Let God set the table here. For everyone. Friends and enemies.
Christophe: Dying here…here and now…Does it serve a purpose? I don't know. I feel like I'm going mad.
Christian: It's true that staying here is as mad as becoming a monk. Remember. You already gave your life. You gave it by following Christ. When you decided to leave everything. Your life, your family, your country. The family you could have raised.
Christophe: I don't know if it's true anymore. I pray. And I hear nothing. I don't get it. Why be martyrs? For God? To be heroes? To prove we're the best?
Christian: We're martyrs out of love, out of fidelity. If death overtakes us, despite ourselves, because up to the end, we'll try to avoid it, our mission here is to be brothers to all. Remember that love is eternal hope. Love endures everything.
Luc: We are in a high-risk situation, but we persist in our faith and our confidence in God. It is through poverty, failure and death that we advance toward him.
Luc: I'm not scared of terrorists, even less of the army. And I'm not scared of death. I'm a free man.
I am hoping that some of you identify with the sentiment expressed in this conversation between the monks. Of course, our situation is not life-threatening, but it is challenging. From the second reading on the weekend, we listen to the words from the first letter of St John (3:18-24)
My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain that we are the children of the truth and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence …….
And just before the end of the film there is a wonderful ‘Last Supper’ scene, a ‘Calvary’ walk in snow and then the spiritual testament of Prior Christian de Cherge:
Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to fall victim to the terrorism which seems to now want to engulf all the foreigners living here, I would like my community, my church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
May they accept that the Unique Master of all life could not be a stranger to this brutal departure. May they be able to associate this death to so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of anonymity.
I've lived long enough to know that I am complicit in the evil that, alas, seems to prevail over the world and even of the one that would strike me blindly.
I could never desire such a death. In fact, I don't see how I could ever rejoice in this people I love being indistinctly accused of my murder.
I know the contempt the people of this country may have indiscriminately been surrounded by. And I know which caricatures of Islam a certain Islamism encourages.
This country and Islam, for me, are something else. They are a body and a soul.
My death will of course quickly vindicate those who hastily called me naive or idealistic, but they must know that I will finally be freed of my most burning curiosity and will be able, God willing, to immerse my gaze into the Father's in order to contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them.
In this THANK YOU, where from now on all is said about my life, I include you of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you as well, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing.
Yes, for you as well I want this THANK YOU and this FAREWELL which you envisaged.
And may we meet again, happy thieves in paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.
This movie and these words speak to me of the love that many of us have for God, each other, creation and the Catholic Church. It seems to me that we try to rationalise this heart-felt sense of belonging of trust and journey. I hope this is the unconditional heart-space we bring to our synod, for like the Cistercian monks we are summoned to be witnesses to God’s love and the person of Jesus as a community known as the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. We are not called to be lone rangers.