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What Good Can Come from a Synod? Looking at Past and Present Memorable Moments on the Final Message of the Synod

October 25, 2008
In John's Gospel, Philip was trying to recruit Nathanael to become a prophet. Philip mentioned that Jesus had come from Nazareth and Nathanael asked his famous question: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip replied: "Come and see."
Nazareth must have had quite a reputation in Jesus' time to elicit such a question. In fact Jesus ended up being the best thing that could come from Nazareth. He put the town on the map, although his Mother certainly helped out considerably through her hospitality to an angel and by her Fiat. Joseph also helped out with his sterling reputation and fidelity, and his excellent building skills.
Can any good thing come from Nazareth? Can anything good come from those places that seem so familiar to us? Or those places that we have simply discounted, diminished or dismissed, rightly or wrongly?
Many are asking if anything good could come from another synod of bishops? Aren't these talking marathons nothing more than lots of words and documents and not enough follow-up and action?
Past achievements
Synods are not likely to have direct, immediate impacts on the lives of the faithful. However, a few synods are very memorable for what they accomplished and offered the Church and the world.
The second ordinary synod (1971) discussed both the ministerial priesthood and justice in the world. On the latter topic, the bishops issued the stirring declaration that "action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel." Pope Paul VI would later endorse this idea as he clarified that action for justice is not an optional part of Christian living of the privileged gift of a select few.
Following the synod on evangelization (1974), Pope Paul VI issued an apostolic exhortation -- quoted many times by the synod fathers over the past three weeks -- giving greater prominence to the responsibility of every Catholic to spread the Good News. He also affirmed the unique role of missionaries in the modern world and the special challenge of inculturating the Gospel while respecting local customs and beliefs.
After the synod on the family (1980), Pope John Paul II urged families to "become what you are," a community of persons committed to dialogue and service in the church and society, reiterating Vatican II's image of the family as a domestic church.
After the synod on the laity (1988), Pope John Paul II praised the active involvement of lay people in the church while reaffirming their primary calling as a "leaven" in society.
I beg to differ with the cynics both within and outside the Church, who for a variety of reasons may have dismissed this synod on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church," and declared that nothing good could possibly come forth from this world Synod of Bishops.
Perhaps more than many synods at the Vatican, this gathering will have some direct ramifications for Catholics and Christians. I would like to consider several aspects of the current synod and reflect aloud with you on the deep and lasting impact of this year's gathering in Rome.
Message to God's People
During this morning's 21st general congregation, the synod fathers voted (by their applause) on the final message of the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
The lengthy message was crafted by the Italian Scripture scholar Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, who is also a noted television personality and now president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cultural Heritage and Sacred Archaeology.
The message was released to the world today at a noontime press conference. Albeit that the text is probably set for a high altitude (about 40,000 feet above the earth), its contents are richly woven together and serve as a rich biblical reflection that must be unpacked and presented to the "People of God." Personally I have found the message to be a very good spiritual reflection on the Scriptures. Nevertheless it needs to be "unpacked"
Here are some excerpts:
"There are four main points we wish to call to the attention of the People of God and which we will express using four images": the Voice, the Face, the House and the Road of the Word.
"The divine Voice ... sounds out at the origin of creation, ... giving rise to the wonders of the universe. It is a Voice that penetrates into history, a history lacerated by human sin and troubled by suffering and death. ... It is a Voice that descends into the pages of the Sacred Scripture which we now read in the Church with the guidance of the Holy Spirit."
"The Face is Jesus Christ Who is Son of the eternal and infinite God, but also a mortal man, linked to a historical period, to a people, to a land."
"It is He who reveals to us the 'complete and unitary' meaning of Sacred Scripture, and hence Christianity is a religion that has at its heart a person, Jesus Christ, Who reveals the Father. It is He Who enables us to understand that the Scriptures are 'flesh.'"
"The House of the Divine Word ... is the Church, which as St. Luke says is supported on four columns: 'teaching,' in other words reading and understanding the Bible in its announcement to everyone; the 'breaking of bread,' in other words the Eucharist, source and summit of the life and mission of the Church, ... the faithful are invited to nourish themselves in the liturgy at the table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ; 'prayer' ... the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture that may lead -- in meditation, prayer and contemplation -- to the meeting with Christ, Word of the living God; 'fraternal communion,' because to be true Christians it is not enough to be 'those who hear the word of God' but also those 'who do it.'"
"The last image of this spiritual map is the Road upon which the Word of God travels. ... The Word of God must travel the roads of the world, which today also include those of electronic, televisual and virtual communication. The Bible must enter into families ... schools and all cultural environments. ... Its symbolic, poetic and narrative richness makes it a sign of beauty, both for the faith and for culture itself, in a world often disfigured by ugliness and brutality."
"The Bible, however, also presents the breath of suffering that arises from the earth, it reaches out to the cry of the oppressed and to the laments of forlorn. At its summit is the cross where Christ, alone and abandoned, experienced the tragedy of atrocious suffering and death. Precisely because of this presence of the Son of God, the darkness of evil and death is irradiated with Paschal light and with hope of glory. ... Along the roads of the world we often meet men and women of other religions who listen to and faithfully practice the dictates of their own holy books and who with us can build a world of peace and light."
Stay tuned for some final words on the synod on the Word.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica is the Vatican's English-language press attache for the 2008 world Synod of Bishops. A Scripture scholar and university lecturer, he is the chief executive officer of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada, and a member of the General Council of the Congregation of St. Basil.
Photo: Plinio Lepri/AP