On Sunday, Oct. 17, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated the opening liturgy for the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, marking the beginning of a global process which will conclude in 2023. Read his full homily below. Note: the homily has been edited for clarity.
As some of you may be aware, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called for a synod on synodality that is going to be in Rome in 2023. Part of the process is that every diocese throughout the world will have a presynodal process. Last weekend, at the Sunday liturgy in Rome, the Holy Father opened this synod process for the diocese of Rome and for the universal Church. Today, in cathedrals throughout the world and in every diocese, the local bishop is opening a presynodal step that will take place over the next few months. It will run from now through to April 2022. It’s a brief process. Normally, a diocesan synod takes a good two to three years.
But what is a synod? A synod is when you gather to truly listen to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father likes to use three verbs [to describe it]: encounter, listening and discernment. It’s important to understand all three of these. The first is encounter, and certainly, most of us understand what it means to encounter others and to enter into conversation with others and dialog with others.
WATCH/LISTEN TO ARCHBISHOP’S HOMILY:
In the Gospel today, the sons of Zebedee, James and John, come to Jesus and they ask him a rather shocking question. They say, “Will you do whatever we ask of you?” Imagine one of your children coming up to you and saying, “Will you do, mom and dad, whatever I want you to do?” I’m sure you would pause. And Jesus does. And he says, “Well, what do you wish me to do for you?” He enters into dialog and then they share what they desire. And the Lord speaks of the drink that he will drink and of the baptism with which he will be baptized. He is pointing to his death, that he will be baptized by his death and the cup that he will drink will be the cup of his suffering, which we see in Gethsemane and at the Last Supper. And James and John reply, “yes, we can do that.”
But then Jesus, in a gentle way, corrects them. He says, “to sit at my right or my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And with that the other 10 disciples then become indignant with James and John.And Jesus in that conversation continues to move towards correction through a dialog. He reminds his apostles that the type of authority that is to be used is the authority of God and not the type of the world in which it is lorded over others. Jesus reminds them, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
We can see in this encounter that Jesus is keeping them focused on giving themselves completely to God and following the Lord. With that, he reminds us the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus himself is a servant. He himself has laid down his life for us. In that encounter, then, we must remember, as Pope Francis reminds us, that it is always one that is rooted in the Lord and also one that consists of prayer and adoration, and that is an essential part of a synodal process. Prayer and adoration. Spending time growing in intimacy with Jesus, with the Father, with the Holy Spirit, and opening our hearts to them.
There is then the listening aspect. It’s important to look at what are we doing when we listen. Certainly, there’s listening to the other person as we see Jesus doing in the Gospel reading. But there is also listening to the Holy Spirit and a listening with one’s heart. Pope Francis reminds us and asks the question, “How is the hearing of your heart?” That’s an important question for today, because it involves two aspects. One is how we hear one another, and we live in a time in which there is very little listening, where there’s a lot of yelling or a lot of ridicule, or people who say, “I’ve already got my mind made up.” There is not that real listening with the heart.
We are blessed in the archdiocese to have Christ in the City and young people who go out every day and work with the homeless. The first thing they do is listen with the heart to that homeless person, because when you listen with the heart, even though you may not agree with the person or their behavior, what you are doing is communicating to them that you care about them, you are communicating to them their dignity as a human being, and their goodness as a human being.
But listening also entails listening to the Holy Spirit. And when we listen to the Holy Spirit, it is not just to confirm my ideas or my thoughts or whatever ideology I follow, but it to listen to the Holy Spirit as Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of truth and the Spirit who will remind us of everything that Jesus has taught. Remember, in the Great Commission, Jesus does not tell his apostles, “Go out and baptize and teach whatever you want.” He says, ‘go out and baptize and teach everything I have commanded you.’ We are called to teach what Jesus taught, to help people to come to encounter Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit, to open their hearts to Jesus and to truly listen to him.
The Holy Spirit is one who helps us, who is our friend, our advocate, one who comes with us to keep us in relationship with the Father, Jesus and with the Holy Spirit himself. The Spirit must be the one who is guiding the synodal process. To discern means testing the spirits. St. Paul will refer to that in his epistles or in his letters, where he will say and remind us of the importance of testing everything so that we are not embracing the ways of the world or the ideologies of the world. We are not putting the ways of the world first, but we are putting the Gospel first. We are putting Jesus Christ first in our relationship with the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
This leads us to the third verb, discernment, the testing of spirits. Is what we are hearing from God or is it from the evil one? The devil can trick us, as he tricked Adam and Eve in the fall. The devil can trick you and I today. My sisters and brothers, spiritual warfare is true. The devil is real. He exists. The devil’s deepest desire is for all of us to be in hell with him.
In the discernment of spirits St. Ignatius of Loyola is helpful. He refers to two standards. There’s the standard of the King, Jesus Christ, the standard of God, and there is the standard of the evil one. In the discernment process, we must always look at, “Am I truly choosing God? Am I truly choosing the way of Jesus Christ when I look at the choices in the decisions that I make?”
That is why it is so important to know and to love Jesus Christ, to be in relationship with him so that I truly am able to discern. Pope Francis reminds us that discernment should unfold in adoration, prayer and dialog with the word of God; listening to the scriptures and especially the Gospels and opening our hearts to that word. Within a synod, there should be a deep love for the Gospels and for God’s word, so that it forms our hearts, it forms our minds, it forms our wills and we surrender everything to Jesus and submit everything to him.
That calls for a radical change for all of us in the way that we approach our faith because what the Holy Father is calling us to is to recognize that when we encounter Jesus, he calls us to completely surrender ourselves to him. Jesus reminds his disciples what it means to follow him. It means leaving everything and taking up our crosses and following him and opening our hearts to him.
It’s important to know that a synod is not a convention. The synod is not a study group. The synod is not a political gathering. It’s not the democratization of the Church and it’s not a parliament. Those are the words that Pope Francis has used to say what it is not. What is it then? Pope Francis reminds us, “It is a process of healing guided by the Holy Spirit.” We must have confidence that the Holy Spirit will be with us in this pre-synodal process. It becomes important that all of us spend time in prayer, in adoration, opening our hearts up to the Lord. It is truly entering into a true conversion process because our lives are one continual act of conversion, of constantly being formed by Jesus and opening our hearts to him.
As we continue with this opening of this synodal process, I encourage you, first, my brothers and sisters, to listen over the next few months for ways to participate in the pre-synodal process. But I ask you more importantly, to open your heart in prayer and to pray for deeper intimacy, a deeper communion with the heart of the Trinity, with the Father, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. How well do you truly know each person of the Trinity, and are you in relationship with each person, and with Jesus himself? Pray for the grace of openness of heart to that encounter with Jesus, because the more that we hear the Word of God, the more are we called to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who heard Jesus explain the scriptures to them and said, “Were not our hearts burning within us as we listened?”
Do our hearts burn within us when we listen to the Gospels? Do they change our lives and bring us the joy that we have from that encounter with the Lord? So, spend time in prayer, spend time in adoration. Open your Bibles and pray with them, and especially the four Gospels, seeking to truly listen and to pray for a deeper encounter with Jesus so that you may come to know the love of the Father. All of us, no matter what vocation we are in, whether bishop, priest, deacon, religious, lay person, consecrated…all of us are called to follow Jesus, and we are called to be those who will be slaves, as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” May those words burn within our hearts during this pre-synodal process, and may we be open to the Holy Spirit, who will always lead us in the truth and brings us to the Father, to relationship with the one who has created us.
To listen to all of Archbishop Aquila’s homilies, subscribe to his podcast:
Apple Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/archbishop-aquilas-podcast/id1573275850
Amazon Music: https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/9c9ab4a5-f663-40b8-af62-5becbbcebf18/Archbishop-Aquilas-Podcast
Archdiocese of Denver Website: https://archden.org/aquila-podcast/