Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty at Launch of Ossory Synodal Pathway

Published on October 20, 2021

St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, 5.30pm Sunday 17th October 2021

In other years when October 17th doesn’t fall on a Sunday, we celebrate St Ignatius of Antioch. Commentators suggest that St Ignatius was the little child taken up by Jesus into His arms, whom we hear about in the previous chapter of Mark’s Gospel [1]. The child held so tenderly and placed centre-stage by Jesus is offered as a template for all who wish to welcome and receive Jesus. It’s a beautiful feastday to launch the diocesan aspect of this universal synod. So what exactly is a Synod?

It comes from the two Greek words: ‘syn’ and ‘hodos’ meaning ‘to journey together’. I mentioned earlier the comments often said about my pace of normal walking! A synodal process goes at a pace of its own. I and all of us need to modify our step. A son told me at a recent funeral, what his dad said when their mam died: “that’s the end of a wonderful 62 year journey”. They had been married for sixty-two years. A synod brings all of us on a journey.

For the Church in Ireland, this universal synod with the title: ‘For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission’, coincides with our own synodal pathway towards a national synodal assembly in the next five years. Synod invites us then to travel on a journey, a journey together, but a journey where we are uncertain of its destination or end point. The synodal pathway is not a journey to some conclusion, final paper or document, the results of which we can implement. The journey, the pathway itself brings change, it’s a whole new way of being church.

The key question at the heart of our synodal pathway this evening is: What does God want from the Church in Ireland, the Church in Ossory, the Church of St Mary’s Cathedral parish at this time? Not what do I want, you want, we want that neatly accommodates our agenda; not what does that group want that ticks the boxes of various red button issues; not what does the polar opposite group who are more interested in maintaining a system and structure that was built for a different era. What does God want from the Church in Ireland at this time? is the question being asked of all people, both within the Church and in society at large, to share their insights into the Catholic Church in Ireland – past, present and future – so that we can prepare for a National Synodal Assembly in the coming years.

In Ossory, as we begin this process of walking together as a diocese, we are not starting from scratch. So much has happened in this diocese going back many years. I think of the Ossory Diocesan Forum. I think of the many assemblies, gatherings and focus groups. I think of the life that is very much part of the deanery structure – northern, middle and southern. I think of the thirteen Pastoral Areas where collaboration and cooperation with one another is essential to the mission.

The period of sede vacante is not an fallow period where nothing happens, or nothing can be done. It is a time when seeds are sown that will be harvested by those who come after us. Over these past months I have established the Ossory Planning Group with representatives from every facet of diocesan life. They have been tasked with digging deeper into the pastoral life of the diocese with the intention of offering the next Bishop of Ossory and those who will work with him in leading this diocese a blueprint to work out of, resting on the shoulders of all the good that has gone before.

There is always the danger that today’s Gospel from St Mark might not be heeded and we might become more entrapped in our silos of power and control, of parish and boundary, of ditch and bridge – the antithesis of service. There can be a temptation among people of faith to get sucked into the vortex of polarisation and fragmentation. “I am for Paul, I am for Apollos” [2]. It’s too easy to forget we are all for Christ. He travels with us on our synodal journey. We must allow space for His dream to root in our hearts and in our conversations. Last Sunday Pope Francis appealed to us: “Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another” [3]. Let that listening begins as I launch the Universal Synod here in the heart of Ossory, the mother church of the diocese.

[1] Mk.9:36-37
[2] 1Cor.3:4
[3] Pope Francis, Homily in St. Peters: 10 October 2021