“But they are on their way with a fragile hope.”
On October 1st, during the Opening Retreat for the Synod, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe presented a meditation on the Gospel story of the Transfiguration to prepare the participants for the tasks at hand. He explained that the events of the Transfiguration were a retreat for Jesus’ friends, a time when they encountered God before setting off on their journey of walking together towards Jerusalem.
Fr. Radcliffe reminded those gathered and reminds us now that the journey to Jerusalem didn’t always go as planned, and didn’t always go well, either. It was peppered with misunderstandings, some quarrels, and some folks who didn’t respond to their message with grace. But nevertheless, they were “on their way with a fragile hope.”
This, “fragile hope”, said Fr. Radcliffe, is what is needed to see us through the Synod on Synodality. He reminded the members of the synod that they, too, will quarrel and misunderstand each other along the way. They won’t all share the same hopes for which direction to turn. But they can trust that, like Jesus and the disciples’ path to Jerusalem, their journey will lead them to the death and Resurrection of the Church.
Admittedly, I have been approaching the synod with tentative steps. I’m scared to get my hopes up, doubtful that the process will lead to the changes for which I am desperately longing. My thoughts about the process have been steeped in doubt, anger, sadness. And these, I’m afraid, are not the emotions of a hopeful heart. Prior to reading Fr. Radcliffe’s meditation, I had let myself forget the creative and imaginative energies of the Spirit, focusing instead on the barriers that stand in between the present moment and a fully inclusive future for the Church.
But Fr. Radcliffe’s meditation reminds me that even fragile hope is hope. It’s okay that I am nervous and hesitant about what the fruits of the synodal process will be. It’s okay that I have doubts and fears about the church. And it’s okay that I hold onto holy anger about some of the injustices that pepper the institution. But what’s not okay is losing trust in the Spirit’s ability to find a way forward.
When reading about the opening days of the Synod, I read in the National Catholic Reporter that, due to a technical glitch, when U.S. Bishop Robert Barron’s name appeared on the system announcing that he would be speaking, the live video instead began broadcasting Sr. Mary Teresa Barron, one of five female religious voting members of the synod. As you may imagine, the two bring very different perspectives to the process. The article then cleverly included a quote from Pope Francis in saying, “the Holy Spirit always surprises us.”
Do I think the Holy Spirit fiddled with the technology at the synod, broadcasting a woman in a man’s place? Probably not. I’m not sure the Spirit is tech savvy. Nevertheless, this little laugh reminds me that we are merely human, doing our best to navigate the rocky terrain of our blessed and broken world. We’re on the road together.
So, if you’re like me, and you’ve been anxious or doubtful about the synodal process, remember the twists and turns on the way to Jerusalem. Remember that fragile hope is still hope. And remember that the Spirit, in all her glorious wisdom, can never be quenched.