On July 29th, the Bishops of Canada thanked Pope Francis for his historic “Pilgrimage of Penance” to Canada (See press release on the CCCB.ca website). In looking back on the time Pope Francis spent in Canada, and his reflections on what he saw and heard, I am struck by what he has understood in so short a period of time and the sincerity by which he addressed it.
I was also struck by his love for, and his commitment to, the First Peoples of this land. Beginning with the time he spent with them in Rome, his deep desire to come to Canada on a
pilgrimage of penance, and his willingness to be open to the encounter, once here,
allowing himself to be further moved by the experience.
It is true, this is only the beginning of our journey together. Just like a seed needs to be fed and nourished in order for it to grow, so, too, the words and gestures of Pope Francis will require further pastoral initiatives for God to affect the healing that is needed. Like Pope Francis,
we need to ask ourselves, “How am I committed to God’s work of healing and reconciliation when it comes to the long legacy of Residential Schools and the long-term effects
of colonization on the First Peoples of this land?”
Pope Francis’ Pilgrimage to Canada marks an important milestone in this process. It is with gratitude that I acknowledge his visit, and it is with joy that I thank the First Peoples of Canada for welcoming him, sharing their stories with him, and having the courage to address the pain they have experienced at the hands of those who ministered in the name of the Church.
-Bishop Bart Van Roijen-
Last Spring the people of the Diocese were invited to offer their input into the Church’s latest Synod on Communion, Participation and Mission. Since then, the Diocese has drafted a report, which was used by Rome, among many other submissions, to draft a working document entitled: “Enlarge the space of your tent”. Both of these documents are available here on our Diocesan Website.
We encourage you to read them and reflect on them.
In order to continue the listening process, Rome has asked each Diocese and each Continent to enter into a process of reflection and discussion on the document, “Enlarge the space of your tent” (the result of its first consultation).
The three questions for discussion:
After having read and prayed with the document,
1) What resonates most strongly with the lived experience of Church in your area?
2) What questions or issues need to be addressed in the next steps of the process?
3) Looking at what emerges from the first two questions, what further actions should be taken?
The Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador is hosting a virtual discussion group, dealing with these questions, on December 1st at 7 p.m.. If you would like to participate, please e-mail the diocese before Tuesday, November 29th at: email@example.com and we will send you a Zoom link. Feedback from this discussion will be used, by the 3-5 diocesan delegates, at the Continental Stage in January. Feedback received at our diocesan virtual discussion will also be used to further the discussion on our own
Diocesan Report beginning in February 2023.
A synthesis of the discussions
of the synodal questions
The Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador
“The Church of God is convoked in Synod”. With these opening words, Pope Francis informed Roman Catholics around the world that the path entitled “For A Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission” would solemnly open in Rome on October 9-10, 2021 and on October 17 in each particular Church. In the preparatory document, we read ”the purpose of the Synod is “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands.”” (32)
The Diocesan pathway to this Synod began on October 17, 2021 with a Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Redeemer and of the Immaculate Conception by Bishop Bart van Roijen. The first order of business was the creation of a Diocesan Synod Advisory Committee, who met and charted a pathway forward for the Diocese. Of the ten thematic nuclei composing the facets of “lived synodality”, four were chosen which were deemed to be of particular interest and potential service to the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador, and to the parishes themselves. These four questions were reformatted so as to facilitate comprehension and inspire discussion. A plan was implemented to promote awareness of and knowledge about the consultative process in our Diocese: an introductory letter from the Bishop explaining the Synod in general and the process our Diocese would follow, which was read and distributed in parishes; a series of bulletin announcements explaining and outlining the process was sent to all parishes; a video was made of the Bishop explaining the Synod in general as well as the consultative process and was posted to the Diocesan web page and YouTube page; links to the Synodal documents were placed on the Diocesan web page; and, a facilitator’s guide was developed to assist parishes in their consultation sessions. It was requested that each parish pastoral council dedicate a meeting to the discussion of the synodal questions and submit a synthesis of that discussion to the Diocese.
And so, in the midst of a Covid-19 shutdown with a push on to deliver vaccination booster shots as quickly and as widely as possible and in the midst of a harsh Newfoundland winter, the synodal questions were sent off to the parishes – many of them small, many of them remote, and most of them, like their communities, struggling for survival. The response was heartening.
Approximately 70% of parishes responded, as did organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, the Presentation Associates and the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee. The priests of the Diocese dedicated a portion of their pastoral study days to consideration of the questions. Several individuals preferred to submit written responses to the questions. It was clear that many parishioners were willing to participate in this process, despite some misgivings about the outcome, because of their faith, their love for their Church and the hope that some change could be affected which would, like the Second Vatican Council, allow a breath of fresh air to blow through the Church and rejuvenate her.
Companions on the Journey
For many parishes in the Diocese, companionship is easily visible as it is lived out on a daily basis. In small parishes, parishioners feel a sense of ownership and they work diligently to maintain parish buildings and keep the parish viable and active. Parishioners come together to meet a need and they come together to share the joys, the troubles and the grief of others in their community. They work together to ensure that Masses are organized, devotions are encouraged, and sacramental programs are in place. Parish outreach efforts may vary from community to community, but they invariably include bereavement supports, visitation of the sick (although much reduced due to Covid) and assistance to the needy.
Despite this busyness of parish life, there is a deep longing to reach out even more – to those who have not returned to Church following the pandemic, to those who have long since stopped attending Mass, to youth and to young families. Most parishes experience low attendance numbers and an aging population, which results in a lack of volunteers to take on leadership roles in the parish which in turn leads to an almost universal fear of what will happen in the parishes when this generation has passed away. The conversations about the future of parishes are tinged with sadness and resignation, as people see no one to fill the void.
In their discussions and the subsequent submissions, parishes offer some suggestions on what hinders the journeying together. One major hindrance is the negative image of the Church in the sexual abuse scandal, the residential schools and the treatment of indigenous peoples, which many feel has caused a loss of trust and a loss of faith in the organized Church. Many parishes suggest that prayer and healing services should be offered by the church to address these challenges. Victims and their families feel anger and resentment towards the Church because of her lack of acknowledgement or apology for these abuses, and communities feel that companionship is not possible as long as these feelings exist.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in people being less connected to and less involved in their parishes. The sense of the sacred and the sense of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist have been lost, not able to be transmitted or experienced via TV or the Internet.
The secularization of society has led to the loss of faith practices in the home. Additionally, many people do not see the relevance of church in their lives; they believe it possible to do good and to be good without belonging to an organized church.
How are we called to grow as companions? Parishioners can continue praying beyond themselves – for First Nations, for war-torn countries, for refugees and for the Pope’s monthly prayer intention, for example. This helps to connect the local church to the Universal Church, creating the feeling of belonging to something bigger.
Parishes can attempt to find out why young people and young families do not participate in the Eucharist. Parishes can provide opportunities for people to gather, to meet friends and to rebuild a sense of community. Parishes could become more technologically inclined, which might make it easier to reach and to connect with youth. Post-pandemic, we need to find new and creative ways to intermingle.
Most parishes expressed their belief that everyone has a voice but that many choose not to use it – some for fear of speaking out in public, some for fear of not being heard, and some for reluctance to question or challenge the hierarchy.
However, most parishes also expressed the belief that many groups have no voice. The marginalized have no voice. Young people are seldom asked their opinion and their message is rarely heard. In the words of one parish, “Church groups, Parish Council and leaders in the Church are heard, but gays, lesbians and transgender do not feel there is a place for them. Divorced and single parents do not feel there is a place for them. Indigenous people do not feel there is a place for their cultural celebrations in the church and need to celebrate special feast days and events in halls, legions or outside in nature. They do not feel they are being heard.”
Parishes see the handling of the sexual abuse scandal and the residential schools issue as being an impediment to listening – the lack of acknowledgement by the hierarchy, the costly court actions initiated by the Church, the lack of apologies and the lack of space and opportunity for discussion have all contributed to creating a deep mistrust of the hierarchy of the Church.
Like many dioceses, the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador is faced with declining numbers of priests in active ministry, and have undertaken the recruitment of priests from other countries. The cultural differences and the language differences experienced by both clergy and laity create obstacles to listening and accompaniment which must be navigated with kindness and patience.
Several parishes expressed skepticism about the synodal process itself. There is a division between progressives and conservatives. There is doubt that the process won’t lead to any meaningful change. There is a belief among many that Rome is totally divorced from reality. Some fear the promotion of a globalist agenda, some feel that too much heed will be paid to fringe groups, some fear that the agenda is already set and decisions are already made, and others fear what we might hear.
On a more positive note, many feel that it is an integral part of our journey to listen to the joy, hurt or despair of others, and to offer them comfort and encouragement. We need to be welcoming, accepting and accommodating in our listening, not close-minded or judgemental. We need to remember that the purpose of listening is more to hear, to empathize and to enter into communion with others than to solve a problem or make a decision.
Things are better with good leadership, and good leadership comes from well-trained priests. Training programs for priests should include training in skills which will assist them in working collaboratively with parishioners to create active and vibrant faith communities - administrative skills, communication skills and people skills.
Many parishes offered suggestions on outreach communication, including bulletins, sharing Diocesan correspondence, contacting/visiting the sick, creating a face book page, using social media, Mass cards and intentions, prayers for the sick, and comment or suggestion boxes.
Sharing in Christ’s Mission
Most people do not know what Christ’s mission is, and even those who do are unaware that they share in it. They do not see that the “good deeds of their secular life” (contributing to food banks, donating gently used clothing to outreach groups, visiting the sick, reaching out to the housebound, among many others) and their primary vocation as spouses, parents and Christians living out their calls in the world, is actually a living out of their calling to join in the mission of Christ.
What happens in parishes to assist in carrying out the mission of Christ? First of all, there are many volunteers who work together to maintain parish viability, from buildings and finances to liturgy, faith development and sacramental preparation. Affiliate organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Development & Peace, among others, assist parishes in outreach initiatives to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and all those who live on the peripheries. By participating in special collections for national and global issues and by praying for war-torn countries, for immigrants and refugees, and for the Pope’s monthly intentions, parishes connect themselves to the Universal Church and live out the loving of others, as Jesus taught.
What hinders the carrying out of the mission of Christ? The secularization of society and its many distractions have led to a general disinterest in the Church and the loss of faith practices in the home. Many people don’t feel that they need the Church in order to do acts of mercy; they do not connect this to their faith or to Christ’s mission. The loss of Catholic schools in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has led to a loss of education in the Catholic faith. People do not see a need to belong to the Church – they can pray at home, watch Mass on TV or the Internet and do good deeds simply as a human being. The proliferation of social media has created a loss of personal contact among people. The combination of an aging population, a decline in the size of families and a decreasing number of young people in church has made it increasingly difficult for parishes to thrive or survive. The Church itself seems to focus on sacraments and devotions instead of on the mission of Christ. The declining number of priests in the Diocese means that most priests bear responsibility for multiple parishes, which leaves them little time for listening and communication, to determine needs or to establish relationships with youth or families. There is little or no promotion of mystagogy attached to catechetical programs or sacramental preparations.
In order to more fully participate in the mission of Christ, parishes need to be intentional in their actions. They need to develop a vision for the parish and action plans to achieve it.
Authority and Participation
Most parishes believe that the Church uses a top-down decision-making model, with decisions flowing from the Bishop to the priest to the Parish Council, with little or no input from parishioners.
The parish pastoral council and the finance committee, in consultation with the priest and with input from parishioners, are seen as the main decision-makers of the parish. Non-members of committees or councils are often unaware of how they are formed, how decisions are made, and how one becomes a member. Many committee members are perceived as long-serving, set in their ways and unwilling to change.
In most parishes, there is reluctance by parishioners, committees and councils to challenge the priest or the Bishop. Most decisions are reactive instead of proactive. Much effort goes to keeping bills paid and buildings maintained. Little time or energy is left for spiritual matters. The synodal process is affording people the opportunity to speak and to feel heard. There is hope that this process might be good for the Church.
In convoking this Synod, Pope Francis invited all Roman Catholics to reflect on the Synod’s theme and to offer their thoughts, ideas, dreams, hopes and fears so that, together, we might refresh and renew our faith and create a truly Synodal Church. The Roman Catholics of the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador, like many around the world, responded to the invitation – despite their reluctance, despite their concerns that the process might ultimately lead nowhere, despite their fear that their voice might not be heard, despite their feeling of being a very small cog in a very big wheel – because ultimately they love their church and are very worried about Her survival and they dare to hope that this process might give Her new breath and new life.
The reports submitted to the committee by parishes, groups and individuals almost unanimously shared certain commonalities. Each identified problems facing the Church today – such as declining vocations, declining participation in the life of the Church (local or universal), aging and declining populations, among others. Each mentioned the need to acknowledge and apologize for the mistakes of the past, a pathway upon which Pope Francis has recently embarked. Each mentioned marginalized groups such as women, the LGBTQ population, separated Catholics, and divorced and remarried Catholics.
Each also mentioned that the Church needs to change. She needs to focus on her mission and her sharing in the mission of Christ. She needs to have a clear vision of what the Church should look like in the future and clear ideas about how to grow that Church of the future.
And finally, each believes that the Holy Spirit is still with us; each hopes and prays that the Spirit is active through this process and, that because of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can have hope – the hope to which we are called.
Please read and reflect on the Working Document for the Continental Stage issued by Rome that summarizes all the diocesan reports around the world.
(Please see PDF below)
The War in Ukraine:
A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Action
The war in Ukraine rages on with no end in site, claiming the lives of thousands of innocent children, men and women, with millions more on the move as refuges in search of safety, food, shelter, clothing and medicine, in addition to the destruction of countless homes, schools, hospitals and business. As winter approaches, hundreds of thousands of people will have no heat in their homes, with energy being used as a weapon of punishment.
Ukraine and its people are in crisis. Like the Holodomor-Genocide or Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933, which claimed the lives of millions of people in Ukraine when the Soviet Union deliberately and methodically starved as many as one-quarter of the Ukrainian population, today’s war in Ukraine by foreign aggressors has as its intent to erase the identity and history of the Ukrainian people – a genocide in the making.
In light of the recent intensified attacks, let us renew our attention to the plight of the people of Ukraine in an effort to continue to “Stand with Ukraine.” In particular, let us renew our efforts to pray, fast, and act.
Prayer is the privilege and duty of every person where we worship and praise the Lord God and bring forth our immediate needs and concerns.
We, the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in Canada, invite you to renew your efforts to pray daily for peace in Ukraine.
Let us pray for those who endure the war, who defend their country and nationhood, who live in fear, and who have been forced to flee their homes.
Let us pray for those who have died as a result of the war, and for those who have died today and who will die tomorrow.
Let us pray:
O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, we entreat You to hear the earnest prayer of Your beloved Church of Kyivan Rus’ for her afflicted children abiding in the land of Ukraine. Deliver Your vulnerable people from unjust aggressors, foreign invasion and the terror of war. O kind-hearted Lord, as You are our peace, soften the hearts of the unmerciful and convert those who promote hostilities toward reconciliation, so that your beloved children of the land of Ukraine, may abide in that tranquility, justice and freedom which reflects your Kingdom, where You reign with Your eternal Father, and Your most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now, and forever and ever. Amen.
The age-old practice of fasting is a means to spiritual growth and purity of heart. Through fasting we recall the failure of Adam and Eve to fast from the forbidden fruit thereby leading to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Through fasting, we resolve to renew our lives according to God’s ways and laws. We, the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in Canada, invite you to fast for the people of Ukraine and for peace in their country. Like the Holodomor Ukrainian Famine in 1932-1933, many people in Ukraine today have no food. In solidarity with them, let us fast.
In particular, we invite you to a three-day fast starting on Thursday, November 24, concluding on Saturday, November 26, when we commemorate the Holodomor annually throughout Canada.
Fast as best as you can. For some, that will mean only bread and water, for some no sweets, for others only one meal each day. However you choose to fast, unite your thoughts and prayers before the Lord for peace for the people of Ukraine.
Almsgiving is a charitable way of expressing gratitude to God for the bounty of God’s blessings in our daily lives.
Almsgiving is also a way to identify with the needs of others and respond in some meaningful way.
We, the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in Canada, acknowledge and thank you for your unprecedented generosity in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine. May God bless your kindness and generosity!
Yet, today, as winter approaches, the people of Ukraine need your support evermore.
We invite you to consider a further humanitarian aid donation so that the people of Ukraine may have the basic necessities in life that each of us enjoys – food, shelter, clothing, and medicine, as well as heat, for their homes this winter.
Kindly donate through your local parish, Catholic Near East Welfare Association – Canada (CNEWA), Development and Peace – Caritas Canada, Aid to the Church in Need – Canada, Canadian Jesuit International, or the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
The purpose of this pastoral letter has been to raise our awareness of the ongoing war in Ukraine and to invite you to prayer, fasting, and action towards our brothers and sisters who are in desperate need of your support. These are not easy times. The entire world is ill at ease.
Yet, together we can make a difference in the millions of lives of the children, men and women who are counting on you.
May God bless you and your family with health, peace, love and joy.
Sincerely in Christ,
+ Lawrence Huculak, OSBM, Metropolitan Archbishop of Winnipeg; Apostolic Administrator of Saskatoon
+ David Motiuk, Eparchial Bishop of Edmonton; Apostolic Administrator of New Westminster
+ Bryan Bayda, CSsR, Eparchial Bishop of Toronto
Please do not forget to include your envelope number and name, so that you may be credited with a tax receipt.
It was the day of Pentecost, the second biggest feast in the ancient Jewish calendar. Known in the Bible as the Feast of Weeks, it took place “Fifty Days” (hence the Greek term “Pentecost”) after the Feast of Passover, and commemorated the Covenant that God established with his people on Mt. Sinai. Much like in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, when Moses came into God’s presence on Mt. Sinai it was marked by a great storm and peels of fire. And just like our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the people were mesmerized and transfixed by such an awesome display.
The Christian account of that first day, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, has often been portrayed as being somewhat gentle and quiet, to the point that we almost block out the loud sound, like the rush of a violent wind, a sound that was so powerful that crowds gathered from all over Jerusalem to see what had taken place. That and the tongues of flame, reminiscent of the peals of lightning that surrounded Moses on Mt. Sinai, would have created an instant flashback with the events they were commemorating. Mesmerized, amazed and bewildered, much like the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they heard the apostles speak of “God’s deeds of power” in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, each in their own language.
What happened on the Feast of Pentecost, both in the Old and New testaments, speaks of God’s initiative to enter a relationship with his people. The work God had begun by rescuing Israel from slavery so many years ago, forming them into one people unto himself at Mt. Sinai, is now completed by the mystery of our redemption in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. No longer restricted to a particular people at a particular time in their history, the new covenant is made with all people, throughout the ages, who believe in what God has done for them in Christ, repent of anything that is contrary to his teaching, and are baptized. The promised Holy Spirit enables all peoples to live as children of God.
“Now there are varieties of gifts,” St. Paul tells us, and “a variety of services” and “activities” (see 1Cor. 12: 7). None of us are meant to be cookie-cutter copies of one another. Yet, the Spirit is active in each one of us, as we turn our lives to Christ, and allow his self-emptying love to fill our hearts with a new purpose for our lives. No longer living for ourselves, but for him who redeemed us and reconciled us into a perfect communion with God, we witness to the joy of being called into discipleship.
As we gather around his altar, may we do so in solidarity with those who gathered at the base of Mt. Sinai and at the Sound of the great wind in Jerusalem that day, and may we hear God speak to us in our own language and in our own circumstance, as he longs to renew his relationship with us and make of us a people that is totally given to Him, sharing the Spirit’s gift of healing and forgiveness with the whole world.
The Easter message continues to surprise us.
Like Mary Magdalene, we stand weeping outside the tomb. Blinded by our tears, and our inconsolable grief at the state of our condition, we are unable to recognize the Risen Lord.
The surprise comes when Jesus calls Mary by name. Just as Lazarus came out of his tomb at the sound of his name, Mary is freed from her tomb when she turns towards Him and cries out, "Rabbouni!"
By name Jesus calls each one of us from the tomb of our sins and our failure to see Him. At the sound of our name, we respond. No longer weeping at the sight of His tomb, nor imprisoned by a sense of hopelessness, we rejoice at His resurrection, knowing that Christ does not abandon us to sin and death, but calls us to embrace a new life in him.
I pray that Mary's joy, on hearing Jesus call her by name, transform your weeping into joy, so that you may see beyond this "valley of tears", and the negative accounts that overwhelm us, and see the fullness of God's gift that fills us with healing, forgiveness and the power of His mercy.
Happy Easter to you, your family, your friends, and the communities in which you live.
Fraternally in Christ,
Bishop Bart van Roijen
Bishop of the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador
Last March 29,2023
Chrism Mass: On Thursday (or another day before Easter) the bishop blesses the oils in the cathedral. He blesses holy Chrism for baptism, confirmation and ordination; oil for the anointing of the sick; and the oil of catechumens for those preparing for baptism. The oils are brought to each parish church and there prominently and reverently displayed. They are used in celebrating the sacraments during the year.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Standing Committee for Family and Life warmly extends an invitation to families, parishes, dioceses and faith communities to celebrate together the National Family & Life Week from 7-14 May 2023. The 2023 celebration of National Family and Life Week has for its theme
Jesus’ words “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
2 April 2023 – Palm Sunday – Year A
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. – Matthew 21:8
Our prayers and deepest sympathies go out to the family, relatives and friends of the Late Monsignor Jim Robertson who recently passed away on Sunday afternoon at approximately 3:30 PM, February 19th, 2023 surrounded by his family.
Visitation will be held at Fillatre’s Funeral Home, 4 St. Mark’s Avenue on Wednesday, February 22 from the hours of 2-4 & 7-9 p.m. and will continue on Thursday, February 23 from the Cathedral of the Most Holy Redeemer, Mount Bernard Avenue 2-4 & 7-9 p.m. with a prayer service starting at 8:00 p.m. from where the Mass of Christian Burial will take place on Friday, February 24 at 10:00 a.m. with Bishop Bart van Roijen officiating.
Interment to follow at Mount Patricia Cemetery.
As expressions of sympathy, in lieu of flowers donations may be made to Sacred Heart Parish in Curling or the Corner Brook Food Bank Network.
The Mass of Christian Burial can be viewed live through the following link
Dear brothers and sisters!
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the episode of the Transfiguration of Jesus. There we see the Lord’s response to the failure of his disciples to understand him. Shortly before, there had been a real clash between the Master and Simon Peter, who, after professing his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, rejected his prediction of the passion and the cross. Jesus had firmly rebuked him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a scandal to me, because you do not think according to God, but according to men!”
(Mt 16:23). Following this, “six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John his brother and led them away to a high mountain” (Mt 17:1).
The Gospel of the Transfiguration is proclaimed every year on the Second Sunday of Lent. During this liturgical season, the Lord takes us with him to a place apart. While our ordinary commitments compel us to remain in our usual places and our often repetitive and sometimes boring routines, during Lent we are invited to ascend “a high mountain” in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline – ascesis – as God’s holy people.
Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross. This is precisely what Peter and the other disciples needed to do. To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration. These requisites are also important for the synodal journey to which, as a Church, we are committed to making. We can benefit greatly from reflecting on the relationship between Lenten penance and the synodal experience.
In his “retreat” on Mount Tabor, Jesus takes with him three disciples, chosen to be witnesses of a unique event. He wants that experience of grace to be shared, not solitary, just as our whole life of faith is an experience that is shared. For it is in togetherness that we follow Jesus. Together too, as a pilgrim Church in time, we experience the liturgical year and Lent within it, walking alongside those whom the Lord has placed among us as fellow travellers. Like the ascent of Jesus and the disciples to Mount Tabor, we can say that our Lenten journey is “synodal”, since we make it together along the same path, as disciples of the one Master. For we know that Jesus is himself the Way, and therefore, both in the liturgical journey and in the journey of the Synod, the Church does nothing other than enter ever more deeply and fully into the mystery of Christ the Saviour.
And so we come to its culmination. The Gospel relates that Jesus “was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2). This is the “summit”, the goal of the journey. At the end of their ascent, as they stand on the mountain heights with Jesus, the three disciples are given the grace of seeing him in his glory, resplendent in supernatural light. That light did not come from without, but radiated from the Lord himself. The divine beauty of this vision was incomparably greater than all the efforts the disciples had made in the ascent of Tabor. During any strenuous mountain trek, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on the path; yet the panorama that opens up at the end amazes us and rewards us by its grandeur. So too, the synodal process may often seem arduous, and at times we may become discouraged. Yet what awaits us at the end is undoubtedly something wondrous and amazing, which will help us to understand better God’s will and our mission in the service of his kingdom.
The disciples’ experience on Mount Tabor was further enriched when, alongside the transfigured Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared, signifying respectively the Law and the Prophets (cf. Mt 17:3). The newness of Christ is at the same time the fulfilment of the ancient covenant and promises; it is inseparable from God’s history with his people and discloses its deeper meaning. In a similar way, the synodal journey is rooted in the Church’s tradition and at the same time open to newness. Tradition is a source of inspiration for seeking new paths and for avoiding the opposed temptations of immobility and improvised experimentation.
The Lenten journey of penance and the journey of the Synod alike have as their goal a transfiguration, both personal and ecclesial. A transformation that, in both cases, has its model in the Transfiguration of Jesus and is achieved by the grace of his paschal mystery. So that this transfiguration may become a reality in us this year, I would like to propose two “paths” to follow in order to ascend the mountain together with Jesus and, with him, to attain the goal.
The first path has to do with the command that God the Father addresses to the disciples on Mount Tabor as they contemplate Jesus transfigured. The voice from the cloud says: “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). The first proposal, then, is very clear: we need to listen to Jesus. Lent is a time of grace to the extent that we listen to him as he speaks to us. And how does he speak to us? First, in the word of God, which the Church offers us in the liturgy. May that word not fall on deaf ears; if we cannot always attend Mass, let us study its daily biblical readings, even with the help of the internet. In addition to the Scriptures, the Lord speaks to us through our brothers and sisters, especially in the faces and the stories of those who are in need. Let me say something else, which is quite important for the synodal process: listening to Christ often takes place in listening to our brothers and sisters in the Church. Such mutual listening in some phases is the primary goal, but it remains always indispensable in the method and style of a synodal Church.
On hearing the Father’s voice, the disciples “fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:6-8). Here is the second proposal for this Lent: do not take refuge in a religiosity made up of extraordinary events and dramatic experiences, out of fear of facing reality and its daily struggles, its hardships and contradictions. The light that Jesus shows the disciples is an anticipation of Easter glory, and that must be the goal of our own journey, as we follow “him alone”. Lent leads to Easter: the “retreat” is not an end in itself, but a means of preparing us to experience the Lord’s passion and cross with faith, hope and love, and thus to arrive at the resurrection. Also on the synodal journey, when God gives us the grace of certain powerful experiences of communion, we should not imagine that we have arrived – for there too, the Lord repeats to us: “Rise, and do not be afraid”. Let us go down, then, to the plain, and may the grace we have experienced strengthen us to be “artisans of synodality” in the ordinary life of our communities.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit inspire and sustain us this Lent in our ascent with Jesus, so that we may experience his divine splendour and thus, confirmed in faith, persevere in our journey together with him, glory of his people and light of the nations.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, 25 January, Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.