29th Sunday B
October 17th, 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh.
“To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often”
St. John Henry Newman
The newly canonised Cardinal John Henry Newman lived a long life that spanned the most of the 19th century (1801-1890). History remembers him as a holy man of great intellect and humility. He is remembered for many great insights. Probably to-day his idea of the “Sensus Fidelium” – the sense of the faithful is the most prominent.
At a time when there was great emphasis on the Infallibility of the Pope, Newman developed the wider concept or idea of the infallibility of the people of God. He did not contest the importance of the teaching office of the Pope rather he wrote on the importance of consulting with and listening to the faithful. Apparently, he once quipped to some fellow bishops that they would look rather foolish without them!
This understanding of the mission of the Church as belonging to all the baptized, in time, became the unifying thought of Vatican II – when it promoted our self-understanding of the people of God – ironically an idea that long existed in Irish as Pobal Dé.
For those who remember Vatican II it is hard to believe that it is almost 60 years since it gathered in 1962. Fast forward to the Church in the world to-day and specifically the Church in Ireland to-day. When the Church is referred to in public discourse it is invariably associated with the hierarchy – with religious and priests. This despite the extraordinary work being done by countless lay people in school, clubs, charities and support groups not to speak of family.
For many years now various efforts are being made to develop more leadership by lay people in parish communities but with limited success. Many would believe along with Pope Frances that as clergy we resist surrendering control and so stymying the wider engagement of people, women and men, in the leadership of our communities of faith.
That is where the idea of Synod or Synodal Pathway comes to the fore. To be Synodal we need to organise ourselves in a new way – a way whereby we can engage each other in a greater partnership by way of prayer, reflection and commitment to action and to living the Christian life.
We all are well aware of a deep level of disconnection of so many from our parish gatherings. The big question is why? Is it a rejection of the Church because of its failures or of the Gospel because of its demand? Yet we know that a spiritual hunger and quest goes on in the lives of many people of all ages. Unless we provide the opportunities to talk about the issues and seek solutions, how can we move forward together? That in essence is what the Synodal Pathway will try to do.
To-day all dioceses across the world, in some way, are marking the beginning of that journey together. The key words that summarize what the Church under Pope Francis seeks to achieve guided by the Holy Spirit
It is not meant as a discussion group where any voice is as valid as another akin to a Joe Duffy live line experience. Rather it is a much more demanding task where with patient listening under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we together discern the call of the Lord to us individually and as a people of Christian faith.
Returning to St. John Henry Newman – his gift to the Church was to remind us of the “Sensus Fidelium” the sense or voice of the faithful. It came from his deep grasp of the faithful living the Gospel in the particular circumstances of their lives. It led to his often-quoted observation about life
“To live is to change and to be
perfect is to have changed often”.