The entrance to the Paul VI Audience Hall. The synod assembly takes place on the second floor.
This morning, this theme of a new song struck me while praying the Office of Readings before Mass.
The beautiful prayer after Psalm 96 captures so eloquently the grace of Jesus Christ as the One who is guiding the synod. “Your Church throughout the world sings you a new song, announcing your wonders to all. Through a Virgin you have brought forth a new birth in our world; through your miracles, a new power; through your suffering, a new patience; in your resurrection, a new hope; and in your ascension, new majesty.” Yes, I thought, the synod is meant to be a “new song” in which Jesus Christ is to be the center.
In an article on my participation in the synod that appeared today in Louisville’s local paper, which nicely expressed the major themes of the synod, I read that a national commentator expressed the fear that the synod would be simply “…the Catechism of the Catholic Church with a smile.” While at first I dismissed this comment as a bit cynical, the comment came to me in prayer this morning and then again during the sessions of the synod.
If not for Christ, the new evangelization would simply be a human activity and indeed susceptible to a distant and shallow smile, with no change. However, with Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews), the truth of Christ is proclaimed, but in a way that calls us to a deep smile that flows from the joy of His revelation. The smile comes within the joys and sufferings, the grief and anguish of a world thirsting for this eternal and unchanging Word. Thus, the Church proclaims the good news so beautifully captured in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but one in which Christ calls us to extend His loving invitation.
It has been said that the Vatican Council II was truly a missionary council — not so much an effort to modernize the Church in the sense of conforming to the world, but rather in seeking a new language and spirit to convey a truth that is ever-inviting. It is that truth of Jesus Christ contained in the psalm prayer above.
At the synod session this morning, our Holy Father spoke beautifully of the confession or profession of that good news and the charity through which that Good News is expressed. His words, along with so many key interventions of the synod, are being reported quickly in the Vatican daily bulletins that will find their way into Catholic news sources. We also heard witnesses of bishops from all five continents, expressing both shared and unique cultural blessings and challenges.
Two images that flashed on the screen in the synod hall were the Annunciation (Mary hearing from the Angel Gabriel about the Word Made Flesh) and the Good Shepherd from the Priscilla Catacombs, providing an ancient and vivid portrait of the loving Jesus seeking out the lost.
Indeed, the Synod calls for a new song and a smile of Christ to the world. This is not a distant and shallow expression, but a deep smile that reflects the joy of God and through which the Lord Jesus seeks those who are lost and draw those searching to Himself.
Sitting in the sixth row, I found myself very close to the speakers and quite absorbed in the presentations. The content will be distributed through the Vatican News Office, but what may not come through the official channels is the effect on my heart and, I suspect, of so many delegates. It is simultaneously overwhelming and intriguing to experience the rich tapestry of voices from every corner of the world. I recall the quote from Cardinal George, who speaks of the Church’s primary task: “…to introduce Christ to the world in every generation.”
We heard witnesses of struggles with religious liberty, no stranger to the United States these days, from so many parts of our world. It reinforced the importance of our commitment to be courageous announcers of the good news of Jesus Christ as well as good citizens, who propose values that can shape the culture in which we live and that will advance the common good.
I also continue to meet more and more delegates and auditors. It was a nice surprise to receive a letter, delivered by Cardinal Napier of South Africa, from Fr. Frank Doyle, an Augustinian priest. During my days in Knoxville, Fr. Doyle was stationed at a retreat house in western North Carolina and became my confessor and friend. He left for South Africa about six years ago. It was great to get his letter and be reminded of his work with those who are orphaned and in great need. It is a small world!
Please continue your prayers as I bring the intentions of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Louisville with me to Mass and daily prayers. Thursday is a special day. Our Holy Father celebrates Mass for the opening of the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of the opening session of the Vatican Council II.