The Catholic Parishes of Barking & Ilford Lane, Diocese of Brentwood, Reg. Charity No. 234092

Homily - 26th October 2014


THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF YEAR A - 25th & 26th October 2014

The policy of having a Synod of Bishops in Rome began after the Second Vatican Council, which took place 50 years ago. At first these assemblies of Bishops took place every year. This was found to be too often, and Synods usually now take place every three years. Every now and then, the Pope will call an extraordinary Synod, and this is what has happened this year. The theme was Marriage and Family Life in the context of Evangelisation. And the ordinary, every-three-year synod next October will continue the same theme. Now, if you had been following the news through ordinary papers, radio or television, you might well have got the impression that the Pope had called the Synod to change the Church's teaching, and that he had been opposed in his desire by reactionary Bishops. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is yet another systematic misunderstanding by the media of how the Church is and works. The media want short and snappy sound-bites, and if possible an argument with people losing their tempers in public. It sells newspapers. Even the BBC (who do not need to care about how well their broadcasts are received because they are financed out of the levy, that is, tax, you pay if you watch live television) spun the end of the Synod as though Pope Francis had been blocked! So that, if I ask you what the Synod was about, you would imagine that it was about the Church getting up to speed on divorce, homosexuality, and same sex "marriage". But as I said earlier, its theme was Marriage and Family Life, because Evangelisation, that is, spreading the faith of Christ, depends on true Marriage.

Now it is certainly true that Pope Francis is a very different man from his predecessors. Pope Saint John Paul II, a truly great human being, was pope for nearly a quarter of a century. His teachings on marriage and family life, the theology of the Body, and many other important questions are still being digested. The Bishops will have a year to the next Synod to study them again. And in Pope Benedict we had a truly great theologian who began the process of consolidating what the Church had experienced after the Second Vatican Council. He made very clear that there can be no outreach or move forward until and unless we as Church put our roots deep down into the 2000 year tradition of faith. No branches without roots. The accumulated wisdom of the Church all the way back to Christ must be respected. By his resignation, he taught us a very important lesson. It is precisely this lesson that Pope Francis is insisting that we learn.

Now, I cannot go through the history of the papacy and the Church. But by the middle of the 20th Century it did look as though the Church had won! Churches were full; the faith was lived; there were huge numbers of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The Church had not just survived the so-called Reformation and the appalling damage done by French Revolution: she had fought back and been reborn! But the Church cannot sit back and enjoy her success. Not to move forward is to drift or slip back. Pope Saint John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in the nick of time. Pope Blessed Paul VI set up the system of periodic Synods. But no one had forseen how the faith in the "old world", the West, would weaken. After every General Council of the Church there is always a period of doubt and difficulty. Saint John Paul rose to the challenge and put all his great gifts at the service of Christ. His successor, Benedict, a humble worker in the vieyard of the Lord, explained the limits of papal power. The Pope is there to strengthen his brother bishops. The Holy Spirit preserves the person of the Pope from making any mistake which might lead the faithful into error on matters of faith and morals. But the Holy Spirit does not guarantee that the Pope will be inspired in his positive teaching. Some people in the 19th century expected the Pope to tackle every problem with a definitive answer. This would mean shutting people up! Roma locuta, causa finita! Some people wanted that! Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman knew that the Church can only progress if there is an educated and engaged laity. Lay people must be listened to and understood. Pope Benedict knew this as well. He resigned, I believe, because he knew that if he had remained in post, he would not have been able to challenge people who are afraid of change. As Newman said, to become perfect is to have changed often.

That brings me to Pope Francis. As I see it, he is resolutely refusing to be pidgeon-holed! He has refused to be a prisoner of the papal appartments; he has refused to be a prisoner of papal ettiquette and ritual; he is a standing challenge to all our preconceptions of what a Pope should be. He told the Bishops at the Synod to speak out openly, without fear. They did, even challenging him! I am convinced that what he wants is a thorough discussion of all the issues that concern Marriage and Family Life. Why? Because only when everything has been discussed, when all views have been heard, really listened to, and understood; only then can the unchanging teachings of the Church be focussed on the actual needs of the world: Evangelisation! The world needs the Church. Why else did Jesus die on the Cross? It is said that the "conservatives" are afraid that he will change the Faith. But he cannot do this, and he made this quite clear. The "progressives" or at least the media, seem to think that the Pope actually does have power to change what we believe. That is pure ignorance of the facts. Pope Francis seems to be saying as little as possible so as not to close down the conversation before everything that needs to be said has been said.

So pray for the Pope. Pray for the Bishops. Inform yourselves about your faith. Find out the facts. Do not take as true what the BBC, etc. tell you. Above all, practise your faith. Come to Mass every Sunday. Say your prayers. Confess your sins. Be compassionate to others. Be generous with your time and resources. Keep in mind always that the supreme law in the Church is the salvation of souls.