It was at the Angelus of 15 October 2017 that Pope Francis first announced he was convoking a Special Assembly of Bishops in order to “identify new pathways for the Church and for an integral ecology”.
Paul to Timothy
On Sunday, the Pope celebrated Mass for the opening of that Synod, invoking Saint Paul, “the greatest missionary in the Church’s history”. The Apostle “helps us to make this ‘synod’, this ‘journey together’”, he said.
Pope Francis quoted Paul’s words to Timothy, when he writes: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands”.
The Pope went on to remind the Bishops gathered from all over the world for this Synod that hands were laid on their heads, so that they might raise their hands to intercede before the Father, and extend their hands to help their brothers and sisters.
“We received a gift so that we might become a gift”, said the Pope. “Gifts are not bought, traded or sold; they are received and given away”, he added. “If we hold on to them, if we make ourselves the centre and not the gift we have received, we become bureaucrats, not shepherds”.
“Thanks to the gift we have received, our lives are directed to service”, continued Pope Francis. “We do not serve for the sake of personal profit or gain, but because we received freely and want to give freely in return”, he added, insisting that the Bishops “put God’s gift at the centre”.
The Pope returned to Saint Paul when he spoke of how that gift must be rekindled, like a fire, “if we are to be faithful to our calling”. A fire does not burn by itself, he continued, “it has to be fed or else it dies and turns to ashes”. We cannot spend our days “defending the status quo”, said the Pope. “Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the earth”.
Pope Francis identified that fire as the Holy Spirit, “the giver of gifts”. Saint Paul tells Timothy: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and prudence”. Paul places prudence in opposition to timidity, explained Pope Francis. He then quoted the Catechism’s definition of prudence as: “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it”.
“Prudence is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit”, continued the Pope. “Rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything”.
Pope Francis prayed that the Spirit may “give us his own daring prudence”, and “inspire our Synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn”.
“When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect”, said Pope Francis, “it is not God’s fire but that of the world”. “May God preserve us from the greed of new forms of colonialism”, he added.
Referring to the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, the Pope said it “is not the fire of the Gospel”. God’s fire “is fed by sharing, not by profits”, he added. “The fire that destroys”, said Pope Francis, “blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas… in the attempt to make everyone and everything uniform”.
The Pope concluded by repeating Saint Paul’s request to Timothy “to bear witness to the Gospel”. To preach the Gospel, said Pope Francis “is to live as an offering, to bear witness to the end, to become all things to all people, to love even to the point of martyrdom”. He noted, too, that there are some Cardinals who have themselves experienced “the cross of martyrdom”.
We serve the Gospel, said the Pope, “by persevering in humble love, by believing that the only real way to possess life is to lose it through love”.
Pope Francis’ last words were for our brothers and sisters in Amazonia: they are “bearing heavy crosses and awaiting the liberating consolation of the Gospel, the Church’s caress of love”, he said.
“So many of our brothers and sisters in Amazonia have poured out their life”, the Pope added. He quoted “our beloved Cardinal Hummes”, who, he noted, regularly goes to the cemeteries of the small towns he visits in the Amazon. “And then, with a little shrewdness” the Pope said, the Cardinal told him not to forget them, saying, “They deserve to be canonized.”
“For them”, the Pope concluded, “for these [people] who are giving their life now, for those who have poured out their life, and with them, let us journey together”.