Such it was this week, a copy of Pope Francis’ book, Let us Dream, had fallen out of the stack and was staring at me from the study floor. Every time I passed it, I felt this nagging feeling like there was something here that I needed to learn. And then the nagging got the better of me. Thursday night was set aside. I read. And the message is a timely one.
Written during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis writes that times of crisis give us the opportunity to evaluate what’s important and to imagine new possibilities for the future. He writes:
“This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities – what we value, what we want, what we seek – and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of…
God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labour. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded, and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that impact their lives. We need to slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth.” (p6)
Reading these words, I found myself looking to the world around me for signs of hope that we have heeded this invitation. Are we looking for better ways to live together as a community?
I look at the invitation that is the Voice to parliament. Here, at its core, was a very simple ask. This journey of listening that took in the voices of indigenous communities across Australia, that had, for many years, the support of both sides of parliament, and culminated in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which expresses the largest consensus of First Nations peoples. If you haven’t read the statement, please take a few minutes to do so. It is the expression of a hope to live differently. It casts a hope for a future where all Australians can become more through journeying together. It is not about who can take what from whom, but the invitation to dream of a better way of living together. It is the smallest step of this invitation that we are now being asked to vote on in the October referendum. We have been given the opportunity for a new engagement with our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. Just this week, Australian bishops have renewed their earlier call for people to consider the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to have conversations with other people – including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – and to “act in a way that commits to redressing the disadvantage suffered by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and will allow them to reach their potential, thus promoting reconciliation for the good not just of some but of the whole nation”. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, this is a journey that we will continue to walk as a church and a nation.
“This breakthrough comes about as a gift in dialogue, when people trust each other and humbly seek the good together, and are willing to learn from each other in a mutual exchange of gifts. In such moments, the solution to an intractable problem comes in ways that are unexpected and unforeseen, the result of a new and greater creativity released…” (p80)
Coincidentally, as we as a nation collectively address our future together, the leaders of our church will similarly enter a time of dialogue and deep listening to the Holy Spirit at the Synod on Synodality which takes place from 4th to 29th October. This Synod is the culmination of a dream not just for the church, but for all humanity. It is the possibility of a better way of being together. It is a remedy for a community that has all to often become divided down political and ideological lines.
“The term comes from the Greek syn-odos, ‘walking together,’ and this is its goal: not so much to forge agreement as to recognise, honour, and reconcile differences on a higher plane where the best of each can be retained. In the dynamic of a synod, differences are expressed and polished until you reach, if not consensus, a harmony that holds on to the sharps notes of its differences… therein lies its beauty: the harmony that results can be complex, rich, an unexpected.” (p81)
In response to the Pope’s invitation to explore this ‘ancient process’ of synodality, there have been outspoken opposing voices. Rather than resist or exclude these voices, Pope Francis is intentionally inviting them to have a seat at the table. Not everything is reduced to a binary position of win-lose, of us versus them. The journey of synodality dares to dream of a possibility that just might lead to a win-win and the potential for all parties to flourish, the potential for walking together.
“We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigour…” (p6)
With all this in mind, I encountered Sunday’s gospel reading of the landowner who decided to be generous to the labourers who came late to his vineyard and only worked an hour compared to the long day of the other workers. To these latecomers he gave a full day’s wage, which led to the other workers grumbling out of jealousy. Why is it we get envious when we see others get what we think should be ours – when there are resources in abundance, plenty to share – why do we become afraid that if someone else is blessed it means that somehow, we are going to miss out?
As Jesus speaks through the landowner: ‘Why be envious because I am generous?’ (Matt 20.15)
When we begin to see opportunity through the gospel lens, we see that our journey leads us to dream of a new way – a generous way - of being. It calls us out of ourselves. It calls us out of fear and resentment into a place of hope and possibility. As Pope Francis concludes his book, this invitation is not just for the big things in our world, this restless stirring is pulling us to do something right here and right now in the places that we find ourselves.
“Let yourself be pulled along, shaken up, challenged. Maybe it’ll be through something you’ve read in these pages; maybe through a group of people you’ve heard about on the news, or that you know in your neighbourhood, whose story has moved you. Perhaps it’ll be a local elderly people’s home or refugee hospitality centre or ecological regeneration project that is calling to you. Or maybe people closer to home who need you.
When you feel the twitch, stop and pray. Read the Gospel, if you’re a Christian. Or just create space inside yourself to listen. Open yourself… decentre… transcend.
And then act. Call, go visit, offer your service. Say you don’t have a clue what they do, but maybe you can help. Say you’d like to be a part of a different world, and you thought this might be a good place to start.” (p137)
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