See also YouTube video link – thanks to Vatican Media: https://youtu.be/ABo48JNCDxI
The Church – our common home
Different cultures have different conceptions of home. The Instrumentum Laboris (IL) tells us that ‘Asia offered the image of the person who takes off his or her shoes to cross the threshold as a sign of the humility with which we prepare to meet God and our neighbour. Oceania proposed the image of the boat and Africa suggested the image of the Church as the family of God, capable of offering belonging and welcome to all its members in all their variety.’ (B 1.2). But all of these images show that we need somewhere in which we are both accepted and challenged. At home we are affirmed as we are and invited to be more. Home is where we are known, loved and safe but challenged to embark on the adventure of faith.
Every living creature needs a home if it is to flourish. Without a home, we cannot live.
Fr. Timothy shares the reality of today:
We need to renew the Church as our common home if we are to speak to a world which is suffering from a crisis of homelessness. We are consuming our little planetary home. There are more than 350 million migrants on the move, fleeing war and violence. Thousands die crossing seas to try to find a home. None of us can be entirely at home unless they are. Even in wealthy countries, millions sleep on the street. Young people are often unable to afford a home. Everywhere there is a terrible spiritual homelessness. Acute individualism, the breakdown of the family, ever deeper inequalities mean that we are afflicted with a tsunami of loneliness. Suicides are rising because without a home, physical and spiritual, one cannot live. To love is to come home to someone.
What the Transfiguration teaches us about our home
In the story of the Transfiguration we see two understandings of home: the inner circle at home with Jesus on the mountain and the summons to our ultimate home, the Kingdom in which all will belong. Similar different understandings of the Church as home tear us apart today.
For some it is defined by its ancient traditions and devotions, its inherited structures and language, the Church we have grown up with and love. It gives us a clear Christian identity. For others, the present Church does not seem to be a safe home. It is experienced as exclusive, marginalizing many people, women: the divorced and remarried. For some it is too Western, too Eurocentric. The (IL) mentions also gay people and people in polygamous marriages. They long for a renewed Church in which they will feel fully at home, recognized, affirmed and safe.
And yet for some the idea of a universal welcome, in which everyone is accepted regardless of who they are, is felt as destructive of the Church’s identity. As in a nineteenth-century English song, ‘If everybody is somebody then nobody is anybody’. They believe that identity demands boundaries. But for others, it is the very heart of the Church’s identity to be open. Pope Francis said, ‘The Church is called on to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open … where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems and to move towards those who feel the need to take up again their path of faith’.
This tension has always been at the heart of our faith.
But the Church is a sign and sacrament of the unity of all humanity in Christ (LG. 1) in being both. We dwell on the mountain and taste the glory now. But we walk to Jerusalem, that first synod of the Church.
At home in God
When we think of the Church as home, some of us primarily think of God as coming home to us, and others of us coming to home in God. Both are true. We must enlarge the tent of our sympathy to those who think differently. We treasure the inner circle on the mountain, but we come down and walk to Jerusalem, wanderers and homeless. ‘Listen to him’.
God makes his home with us. All of our homes are Nazareth, where God dwells. So we treasure the places where we have met Emmanuel. ‘God with us’. Each of us has our own Mt. Tabor, on which we have glimpsed the glory. We need them. Every local Church is a home for God.
God makes his home now in places that the world despises.
So we glimpse the beauty of the Lord in our own Mt Tabor, where, like Peter, we want to pitch our tents. Good! But ‘Listen to Him!’ We enjoy that moment and then come down the mountain and walk to Jerusalem. We must become in a sense homeless. ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Luke 9.58). They walk to Jerusalem, the holy city where God’s name dwells. But there Jesus dies outside the walls for the sake of all who live outside the walls, as God revealed himself to his people in the wilderness outside the camp. James Alison wrote: ‘God is among us as one cast out’.
It is ‘outside the camp’ that we meet a God who cannot be controlled. It is ‘outside the camp’ that we meet the Other who is different and discover who we are and what we are to do. It is in going outside that we reach for a home in which ‘there is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.26).
Our lives are nourished by beloved traditions and devotions. If they are lost, we grieve. But also we must remember all those who do not yet feel at home in the Church: women who feel that they are unrecognised in a patriarchy of old white men like me! People who feel that the Church is too Western, too Latin, too colonial. We must journey towards a Church in which they are no longer at the margin but in the centre.
God at home in us
When Thomas Merton became a Catholic he discovered ‘God, that centre Who is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere, finding me.’ Renewing the Church, then, is like making bread. One gathers edges of the dough into the centre, and spreads the centre into the margins, filling it all with oxygen. One makes the loaf by overthrowing the distinction between edges and the centre, making God’s loaf, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, finding us.
Carlo Carretto (1910 – 1988), a little brother of Charles de Foucauld said (summing up the ambiguity of the Church) ‘my home but not yet my home, revealing and concealing God’.
‘How much I must criticise you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, and yet you alone have made me understand your holiness. … Countless times, I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face–and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too – where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects.’
God has made himself at home in us with all our scandalous limitations, forever. God remains in our Church, even with all the corruption and abuse. We must therefore remain.
But God is with us to lead us out into the wider open spaces of the Kingdom. We need the Church, our present home for all its weaknesses, but also to breathe the Spirit-filled oxygen of our future home without boundaries.
Note: Instrumentum Laboris (IL) was drafted on the basis of all the material gathered during the listening phase, and in particular the final documents of the Continental Assemblies. Its publication closes the first phase of the Synod, “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission” and opens the second phase, composed of the two sessions (October 2023 and October 2024) in which the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place. Its aim will be to continue to animate the synodal process in the ordinary life of the Church, identifying which pathways the Spirit invites us to walk along more decisively as one People of God.
Some useful resource links to keep up to date on the Synod:
Global Sisters Report/National Catholic Reporter coverage: Synod on Synodality
NCR’s weekly synod podcast: The Vatican Briefing
List of sister participants in the synod: Sisters involved in synod on synodality