I'm really glad I showed up! I thought, and I have written here, that I should welcome you all, but that seems too weak a word for speaking to you here at the beginning of our synod. It is certainly appropriate to say thanks to all of you for all the time you have already given to preparing for this day. But as I'm in some ways more aware of the thanks that I should express for the generosity you have shown in opening your hearts to the possibility of this synod. All of us bear wounds and discouragement from having expectations, aspirations that just don't ever come. I never got that pony I wanted for Christmas … But we come here to the synod with a great and sure conviction that God will not disappoint us. It may not be the answer we looked for, but God will hear the prayer that we have made together that the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and lead us. Let us never lose trust in that.
There are so many things that I could say, I decided that in preaching what I needed to do was to get rid of the things that I don't have to say. What is it that, as I understand it, I can with most anointing, most blessedly say to you that I think God wants us to hear? What's most needed? And above everything that might have to do with how to do our work and what are the steps?
This is the point that I would ask you to begin with: To recall hour by hour and never forget – even to the end of the synod – we are living a mystery. Mystery is Church-speak, theological jargon, the technical term for us to use to describe where heaven and earth meet. The mysteries of the Rosary are events that happened in time through which God from heaven worked in our midst. Those are mysteries. The mysteries we believe in and confess in the Creed are truths from the mind and heart of God Himself that He lets us know and believe and share in. And above all, mystery is the word we use for the sacraments, because in these little things – oil and water, bread, wine, the touch of the priest's hands, a few words in the confessional – these ordinary things communicate the extraordinary, the supernatural present in the natural; heaven here on earth. And, of course, the greatest of mysteries is Jesus Christ Himself – true God and true man.
And so, what I pray for, and I've been praying for this all day, is that each of us and all of us live these three days with the gift of recognition. To recognize the grace, the gift, the presence of Jesus in our midst. That's why we don't hold a synod or have a synod. The Church's word for what we do is celebrate. We celebrate a synod because, according to the mind of the Church, the synod must begin in the Eucharist and end in the celebration of the Eucharist and everything that happens in between is a continuation of that Eucharistic celebration. Maybe that's why we have small table groups in the hotel; I don't know, it might be something more practical. But when you're at the table, please remember this table and take that table as a sign of this one. Just as we know and recognize here there is a mystery, we will recognize in the ballroom and in the meeting rooms that we live a mystery.
In the Scripture today, God Himself speaks to us about the mystery we are living in the celebration of this synod. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst." Gathered together. We might be able to hear in that if we don't think about it, that somehow we've gathered ourselves. The scattering of the sheep occurred through original sin by the power of the devil and we have no power of our own to undo that scattering. We are gathered together in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit Himself – this is a grace, this is a gift! We ought not to forget God would not be glorified if we forgot how it is we're gathered here together – by the Spirit in the name of Jesus. In the power of the name of Jesus. In the person of Jesus Christ Himself. We ourselves, members of the mystical body, Jesus is in our midst. Jesus is alive! He's not an idea. Christ is here!
Jesus says, "I say to you whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Isn't that a marvel? That we mere human beings can have an effect that extends to the throne of God Himself, to heaven itself. We make decisions. Together we discern, and our discernment, done on earth, using very human means, maybe even flip charts from time to time, note takers, recorders, all of those sorts of natural, human processes, these things touch heaven themselves. Our binding and loosing, our deciding that we will stop going this way – that's to loose – and our binding, our deciding we will head instead in that direction - these are decisions made not only on earth, but heavenly, grace-filled because what we do is a mystery.
Now, this can only happen if we answer the summons, the admonition of St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians, "You must be of one same mind, thinking one thing." This mystery can only be lived to the fullest, to the extent that we think like Jesus and that we have in our hearts the sentiments, the passions, the resolution, the will of Jesus Christ. We're not here to arrive at a consensus that is the mere amalgamation of our own thinking. But the decisions and the discernment we make here in the year 2016 in November in southeast Michigan - his piece of the earth - will only be the true living-out of this mystery to the degree that each of us and all of us is filled with the mind and the heart of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother." I'm not giving you a signal here that we're going to call one another out in the middle our small groups – and I certainly don't expect the entire synod to be dedicated to pointing out my faults to me – not that I don't have any, but that would be a waste of our time. (I thought I'd get a bigger laugh with that one). Why does Jesus make this point? Because it is the mission of the Body of Christ, the people of God, the band of disciples that we are, to care about one another's salvation. The point of Jesus telling us to correct one another isn't so that we will hector, so that we will be petty. But even when someone hurts me I must make that person's salvation, that person's growth in holiness my care. We are, as St. Paul says, "to bear one another's burdens'. Or, in answer to the question of Cain, yes, I am my brother's keeper. That's why we are gathered in this synod, because it is the will, the deepest longing of the heart of Jesus Christ that ever wound be healed.
Let us not fail to come into this synod vividly aware of all the wounds we see in our community, wounds of addiction, wounds of blight, wounds of betrayal, wounds of hurt, wounds of racism, wounds of failure to be reconciled, wounds of hopelessness – especially of people adrift having no idea why God made them. And who are we, this band of disciples gathered here by the Spirit? I'm certainly not the best and brightest, and few of us are in this assembly today. But, the Holy Spirit has brought us here so that we can do the work of Jesus Christ; that we can transform. This is the work of Christ. He has risen from the dead so that everyone wound would be healed – not obliterated, but that every wound becomes a window of grace. This is the power of the resurrection – to transform every cross into something glorious, to be an avenue by which men and women grow closer to the Father and more like Jesus, in adoration and trust and glorifying His name. This is the mystery. That you and I should be ambassadors for the recreation of the world and its salvation. Little me. Little you. But it's so. God, in His wisdom, has made it so. And so we celebrate.
It is the Eucharist that guarantees that because we are gathered here, Christ is in our midst; above all, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is the Eucharist, Christ present here who guarantees to us that our little efforts have a heavenly resonance. Just as these little things of bread and wine bring heaven to earth, it is the Holy Eucharist, the Spirit that we receive and are renewed in through the Holy Eucharist that makes us ever more of one mind and heart with Jesus Christ – a paschal heart, a mind willing and ever able to see that it is only by dying that we will live; a heart ready to be generous, even to die so that Christ will live in us. It is in the Holy Eucharist that Jesus shows us how wounds are healed and how wounds become transformed from marks of shame into marks of glory. Please, pause every so often now and then, perhaps even to have the facilitator call this to attention. We live the mystery in these hours, we live the mystery of the Eucharist.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.