By Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) — Pope Francis closed this month’s Synod of Bishops on Synodality on Oct. 29 by telling participants that the process is not yet over, and urging them to prioritize love of God and others, things he said would free them from selfishness and attachment to personal agendas.
Drawing on the day’s Gospel reading in which Jesus is asked which law is the greatest, the pope in his homily said Jesus responds clearly that the most important law thing is to love the Lord God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself.
This is the “guiding principle of everything,” he said, “Not our strategies, our human calculations, the ways of the world, but love of God and neighbor: That is the heart of everything.
This commandment is expressed through both adoration and service, he said, saying to adore God means acknowledging “that he alone is Lord and that our individual lives, the Church’s pilgrim way and the ultimate outcome of history all depend on the tenderness of his love.”
Pope Francis said that in Scripture, love of God is often associated with the fight against idolatry, and that “those who worship God reject idols because whereas God liberates, idols enslave.
“Idols deceive us and never bring to pass what they promise, because they are “the work of men’s hand … idols are made and manipulated by men, while God, the living God, is the one ‘who is not what I imagine him to be, who does not depend on what I expect from him, and who can thus upset my expectations, precisely because he is alive,’ ” he said, quoting the late Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.
Pope Francis said the proof that humanity does not always have the right idea about God comes from the fact that at times people are disappointed, expecting one thing from God and later finding out they were wrong.
“We are always at risk of thinking that we can ‘control God,’ that we can confine his love to our own agenda. Instead, the way he acts is always unpredictable and consequently demands amazement and adoration,” he said.
Pope Francis stressed to synod participants the need to “constantly struggle against all types of idolatry,” citing both worldly forms such as “vainglory, such as lust for success, self-centeredness, greed for money, the enticements of careerism.”
He also cautioned against other forms of idolatry “disguised as spirituality: my own religious ideas, my own pastoral skills.
“Let us be vigilant, lest we find that we are putting ourselves at the center rather than him. And let us return to worship. May worship be central for those of us who are pastors,” he said, and asked that “in every diocese, in every parish, in every community, let us adore the Lord! Only in this way will we turn to Jesus and not to ourselves.”
Pope Francis closed his Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality Sunday after the publication of a final synthesis document late Saturday that many observers argued fell flat compared to expectations.
Stressing the importance of consensus in the building of a synodal Church focused on listening, the document offered no clear or concrete proposals on hot-button issues such as women’s priestly ordination, the female diaconate, priestly celibacy, or LGBTQ+ issues.
Despite the fact that these issues were repeatedly raised throughout the discussion and were featured prominently in the synod’s opening working document, the synthesis document largely called for further study and made no mention of the terms “LGBTQ,” “gay,” or “homosexual.”
Pope Francis in his opening Mass for the synod asked that the discussion be free of ideology and polarization, and this was echoed in a rather muted letter to the people of God published by the synod Oct. 26, with participants saying the process was about listening, and not ideological agendas.
Pope Francis in his homily Sunday noted that in Jesus’ response in the day’s Gospel reading, love of God and neighbor are bound together so they can never be separated.
“There can be no authentic religious experience that is deaf to the cry of the world. There is no love of God without care and concern for our neighbor; otherwise, we risk becoming Pharisaic,” he said.
While people might have many good ideas on how to best reform the Church, “let us remember: to adore God and to love our brothers and sisters with his love, that is the great and perennial reform,” the pope said.
Pope Francis underlined the need for the Church to serve the wounded and to accompany the weak, frail and marginalized, saying, “The love with which he delivered the Israelites from slavery, where they were foreigners, is the same love that he asks us to shower on the foreigners of every time and place, on all those who are oppressed and exploited.”
To this end, he pointed to the plight of victims of war, of migrants, of those who experience isolation and poverty and “those who have no more tears to shed, those who have no voice.” Oftentimes, he said, “behind fine words and attractive promises, people are exploited or nothing is done to prevent that from happening.
“It is a grave sin to exploit the vulnerable, a grave sin that corrodes fraternity and devastates society,” he said, saying Christians must “bring to the world a different type of leaven, that of the Gospel. To put God in first place and, together with him, those whom he especially loves: the poor and the weak.”
Pope Francis voiced his dream for a Church that is a servant of all, one that “never demands an attestation of ‘good behavior,’ but welcomes, serves and loves. A Church with open doors that is a haven of mercy.”
Noting that this month’s synod gathering has closed, he stressed the importance of building fraternity and a culture of listening to others from a variety of different cultures, backgrounds, and concerns.
“Today we do not see the full fruit of this process, but with farsightedness we look to the horizon opening up before us,” he said.
As participants prepare for the second stage of the synod set to take place in Rome in October 2024, “the Lord will guide us and help us to be a more synodal and missionary Church, a Church that adores God and serves the women and men of our time, going forth to bring to everyone the consoling joy of the Gospel,” he said.
He thanked participants for their contributions and prayed that “we grow in our worship of God and in our service to our neighbor. May the Lord accompany us. Let us go forward with joy!”