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Hoping against hope

Hoping against hope

On Sunday morning (1 October 2023), Dominican Friar and former Master of the Order of Preachers, Father Timothy Radcliffe, reflected on the meaning of Hoping against hope with those who will participate in the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops set to begin on Wednesday, 4 October.

This rather unique and special opportunity to share in this reflective and prayer-filled process is gift indeed for this #SynodalJourney we are on together as Church.  It is worth sending time with these Meditations as given by Fr. Timothy, and below I am just sharing some of the ‘signposts’ from an initial reading, as a ‘taster’ to spending time with the full text HERE

You can also watch and listen ot this Meditation on the Vatican YouTube video channel  link HERE

The vast majority of people who have taken part in the synodal process have been surprised by joy. For many, it is the first time that the Church has invited them to speak of their faith and hope. But some of us are afraid of this journey and of what lies ahead. Some hope that the Church will be dramatically changed, that we shall take radical decisions, for example about the role of women in the Church.  Others are afraid of exactly these same changes and fear that they will only lead to division, even schism.

‘Do not be afraid.’ St John tells us ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ So let us begin by praying that the Lord will free our hearts from fear. For some this is the fear of change and for others the fear that nothing will change. But ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’.

So we too prepare for our synod by going on retreat where, like the disciples, we learn to listen to the Lord. When we set off in three days’ time, we shall often be like those disciples, and misunderstand each other and even quarrel. But the Lord will lead us onwards towards the death and resurrection of the Church.  Let us ask the Lord to give us hope too: the hope that this synod will lead to a renewal of the Church and not division; the hope that we shall draw closer to each other as brothers and sisters. This is our hope not just for the Catholic Church but for all our baptised brothers and sisters. People talk of an ‘ecumenical winter’. We hope for an ecumenical spring.

We gather in hope for the Church & for humanity

We also gather in hope for humanity. The future looks grim. Ecological catastrophe threatens the destruction of our home. Wildfires and floods have devoured the world this summer. Small islands begin to disappear under the sea. Millions of people are on the road fleeing from poverty and violence. Hundreds have drowned in the Mediterranean not far from here. Many parents refuse to bring children into a world that appears doomed. In China, young people wear T-shirts saying, ‘We are the last generation’. Let us gather in hope for humanity, especially hope for the young.

So we gather in hope for the Church and for humanity. But here is the difficulty: We have contradictory hopes! So how can we hope together?  In this we are just like the disciples. The mother of James and John hoped that they would sit on the left and the right of the Lord in glory and so displace Peter; there is rivalry even within the closest circle of Jesus’ friends. Judas probably hoped for a rebellion that would throw out the Romans. Some of them probably just hoped not to get killed. But they walk on together.

So what shared hope can we have?

[ … ] We too are gathered like the disciples at the Last Supper, not as a political debating chamber competing to win. Our hope is Eucharistic.

[ … ] At the Last Supper, there seemed to be no future. All that lay ahead apparently was failure, suffering and death. And in this darkest moment, Jesus made the most hopeful gesture in the history of the world: ‘This is my body, given for you. This is my blood poured out for you’. This is the hope that calls us beyond all division.

This is the Eucharistic hope of this synodal journey. The Lord is with us.

The hope of the Eucharist is for what lies beyond our imagination/ The Book of Revelation:  “Behold, an immense multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. They all stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wrapped in white robes, and held palm branches in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb'” (Rev 7:9f.).

This is the hope that the disciples glimpsed on the mountain in the Transfigured Lord. It makes the conflict between our hopes seem minor, almost absurd. If we are truly on the way to the Kingdom, does it really matter whether you align yourselves with so-called traditionalists or progressives? Even the differences between Dominicans and Jesuits pall into insignificance! So let us listen to him, come down the mountain and keep on walking confidently. The greatest gifts will come from those with whom we disagree if we dare to listen to them.

Eucharistic generously

[ … ] If we give generously whatever we have in this Synod, that will be more than enough. The Lord of the harvest will provide.

[ .. ] One can wonder what is the point of small acts of goodness in a war zone. Do they make any difference? Aren’t they just sticking plasters on a rotting body? We do small good deeds and let the Lord of the harvest give them the fruit he wishes. Today we gather on the feast of St Therese of Lisieux. She was born 150 years ago. She invites us to follow her ‘little way’ that leads to the Kingdom. She said, ‘Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God.’

[ … ] The last words of St David, the patron saint of Wales, were: ‘Do simple things well.’ Our hope is that whatever small deeds we do in this synod will bear fruit beyond our imagination.  On that last night, Jesus gave himself to the disciples: ‘I give myself to you’. During this Synod let us share not just our words and convictions, but ourselves, with Eucharistic generosity. If we open our hearts to each other, wonderful things will happen. The disciples gather all the fragments of bread and fish left over after the feeding of the five thousand. Nothing is lost.

A final point. Peter tries to stop Jesus going to Jerusalem, because it makes no sense to him. It is absurd to go there to be killed. Despair is not pessimism. It is the terror that nothing makes sense anymore. And hope is not optimism but the confidence that all that we live, all our confusion and pain, will somehow be seen to have meaning. We trust that, as St Paul says: ‘Now I know in part; then I shall understand even as I have been understood.’ (1 Corinthians 13.12).

Listening to Him & to each other

[ … ] if we listen to Him and listen to each other, we shall come to understand the way forward. This is our Christian witness in a world which has often lost confidence that human existence has any meaning.  … But through our thinking and praying together about the great issues that the Church and the world faces, we witness to our hope in the Lord who grants meaning to every human life.

Every Christian school is a testimony to our hope in ‘the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ (John 1.5).

So, my brothers and sisters, we may be divided by different hopes. But if we listen to the Lord and to each other, seeking to understand his will for the Church and the world, we shall be united in a hope that transcends our disagreements, and be touched by the one whom St Augustine called that ‘beauty so ancient and so new…I tasted you and now hunger and thirst for you; you touched me, and I have burned for your peace.’  (Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, Meditation 1: 1 October 2023, Rome) 


In the next session Fr. Timothy will look at another way in which we may be divided, by our understanding of what sort of home the Church is.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe: Ordained in 1971, Fr Timothy is a well-known preacher and speaker. He was Director of the Las Casas Institute from Easter 2014–Easter 2016 and continues to be a member of the Institute’s Advisory Board. Fr Timothy was global Master of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) from 1992 until 2001 in which role he travelled to every continent (bar Antarctica), founded Dominican Volunteers International and played a key role in helping to establish the Franciscan-Dominican representative offices at the United Nations.

Educated at Paris, under Yves Congar, and Oxford, his books have been translated into 24 languages. He was awarded the Michael Ramsey Prize for theological writing in 2007. He is an Honorary Doctor of Divinity at the University of Oxford and has honorary doctorates from twelve other universities including Fribourg and the Angelicum. He is also a Consulter for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. He is a Sarum Canon of Salisbury Cathedral and a Freeman of the City of London.

Plant dreams, awaken hope

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