Recollection Material – May 2022: The Synodal Journey of the Pilgrim and Missionary People of God
Ex. 13:17-18, 21-22.
The Book of Exodus presents to us the People of God on a Journey towards the Promised Land, guided by God and trusting in his promises and protection. The Church, the New People of God, also travels as a pilgrim throughout history, “amidst the persecutions of the world and the consolation of God” (City 18, 59, 2). Synodality invites us to be conscious of how, as the people of God, we traverse together the road of history, illumined by the Word of God, nourished by the sacraments and always counting on the help of the Lord. Thus, just as the People of God in the Old Testament traversed the desert in search of the Promised Land, the Church moves forward as a pilgrim in this world in route to the heavenly Jerusalem, channeling and orienting everything towards God and fulfilling her mission within history, so that the same may become the history of salvation, and time may cease to be simply a chronological passing, to become a kairos, a time of salvation. Synodality expresses it with one of the words which is “to walk”, to “travel”, “to journey”. The very Augustinian image of the traveler or the pilgrim is the image that synodality offers us of the Church and the believer. In this recollection let us meditate on it.
Return to the self.
Let us dispose ourselves to live this day of recollection, putting ourselves in the presence of God. Our prayer reminds us that synodality means going on a journey, travel the road in the hands of God, without attachment to the things of earth but rather focusing our eyes on God.
Follow the road you have started, you have come to get out of the world and not to remain in it. You are a traveler; this life is an inn; use the money as a traveler in an inn uses the table, the glass, the kettle, the bed; to leave them and to remain in it (Io. ev. tr. 40, 10).
Your voice is my joy.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, we invite you to read slowly the following words from the Book of Exodus allowing them to fall into your heart as a seed into good soil.
13:17 Now, when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the Philistines’ land, though this was the nearest; for he thought, should the people see that they would have to fight, they might change their minds and return to Egypt. 18 Instead the rerouted them toward the Red Sea by way of the desert .road. In battle array the Israelites marched out of Egypt…. 21 The Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both day and night. 22 Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people,+
The Firmament of the Scriptures.
The departure from Egypt for Israel was already a liberation, not only from physical slavery, but from some customs including from a different religion. Furthermore, this departure was destined for a long period of time, since God did not guide them along a road more secure and short as could be hoped for, but brought them through the desert to the Red Sea (vv.17-18).
The Book of Exodus and the Book of Numbers narrate to us the theological moment that the People of God lives during the passage and the pilgrimage through the desert. It tells not of a journey, but of a time during which God brings his people through something more than a journey. He brings them to make Israel his people and he guides them by means of a columns of fire and of a cloud that accompany them by day and by night (v. 21).
The long road through the desert is full of crossroads, rebellions, doubts on the part of the people concerning the true will of God, this is what we find for example in the narrative of the crossing of the Red Sea, when Israel seems at the point of perishing (Ex. 14:15ff.) or when Israel murmurs about the lack of water and food (Ex. 15:22ff.).
As it happens with Israel, even today, the New People of God travels through the desert of a world that causes doubts, dejection and the temptation of discouragement can appear. As the chosen people, we ought not to be fainthearted, since God our Lord always offers us new columns of fire (his love), and of cloud (his mysterious presence) to guide our pilgrimage until the promised land, until the Kingdom of Heaven.
The synodal word “to walk”, “to journey” is completely Augustinian, because in the spirituality and the thought of St. Augustine the idea peregrinatio occupies a particular place. The believer in this world is a pilgrim who is directed from the things of this earth towards the kingdom of God. Actually he is found in Babylon, and ought to get out from it to arrive at the heavenly Jerusalem. In fact St. Augustine exegetically interprets the word Babylon as “confusion” (en. Ps. 64:2). And no one will doubt that the world in which we live is marked out by confusion, among believers and non-believers, since relativism is characteristic of the thought and ethics of the contemporary world. In face of relativism, where all things are equal, where the good is not distinct from the bad, the rule of faith for the Church must shine as the light that illumines the path and helps the conscience, the free choice and the will to do good and able to overcome the ignorance and the weakness that afflict the human being (ench. 81, 22).
And as a pilgrim, who is on the way, it is necessary firstly, to be conscious of it, of being on the way, of not having in this earth a permanent dwelling.
But are you still here, in Babylon? Yes, I am here, this lover and citizen says. I am here with the flesh, but not with the heart (…) where I sing. The citizens of Babylon hear the flesh singing, but the Founder of Jerusalem hears only the sound of the heart (en. Ps. 64, 3).
Finally, there is need, according to the thought of St. Augustine, to be conscious that we do not walk the road along this earth alone. Synodality reminds us that it is the People of God who travels through this world towards the kingdom of heaven. The believer forms part of this pilgrim people who moves forward in this earth among “the persecutions of this earth and the consolations of God” (City 18, 50, 2). Therefore, St. Augustine invites us to travel together along the path of charity (trin. 1, 3, 5), where, moved by love, no one wants to arrive first at the finishing line, but that we arrive united, and we accompany each other mutually along the road.
Everyone who runs, runs with perseverance since all of them will receive the price. He who arrives first will hope to be crowned with the last. Greed does not take up this contest, but charity. All those who run love each other, and this same love is itself the race (en. Ps. 39, 11).
And Christ makes himself a traveler with his own Church. Christ the Head travels together with his Body. For St. Augustine it is the Totus Christus who takes the road to arrive at the kingdom of heaven. That is why he comments that Christ is the Way, but that he is the way who travels together with men; that Christ is at the same time the Way, the Goal and the Homeland. Christ in his human nature is the example of how to travel through this world, obeying the designs of the Father, and living by his grace. Christ as God is the Goal towards which we direct ourselves and who helps us arrive at the finishing line.
Therefore, he who had such power, was hungry, thirsty, was tired, slept, was seized, scourged, crucified, killed. Such is the Way: walk through humility to arrive at eternity. Christ-God is the homeland towards which we go, Christ-Man is the way by which we go. To him we go, through him we go (s. 123, 3).
Along the road there are three dangers that must be overcome, he who delays and no longer moves forward, he who is lost and follows a wrong path, he who goes back to the starting point, i.e., to Babylon. St. Augustine expresses it this way, inviting us to avoid these three dangers.
Our Way Himself searches out the travelers. There are three classes of men he detests: he who stops, he who goes back, and he who gets out of the road (s. 306B, 1).
The believer does not advance in this world lacking of nourishment, but that he has for the road the bread of the traveler which is itself the Body of Christ, that strengthens his soul, and which at the same time grants the grace to journey promptly along the Way of God. And with the Eucharist, the other bread of every day is itself the Word of God that becomes the compass of the pilgrim that points the route and the direction that he must follow. And since he travels in community, these also form part of his nourishment: community prayer, liturgical celebration, the hymns of the assembly of the people of God.
Ours is a daily bread: of it the spirits, not the belly, live. It is also necessary for us who now work in the vineyard; it is nourishment, not wage (…) Our daily bread in this earth is the Word of God that is always distributed in the Churches, our recompense, posterior to the work, is called eternal life (s. 56, 10).
And the road we travel not just in any way, but with joy: “sing, but walk on, gladden your work with song, do not love laziness: sing and walk” (s. 256, 3). The Augustinian peregrinatio is traversed with joy and gladness, as it used to be with the Jewish pilgrims when they neared Jerusalem, they sang full of joy on seeing the goal, and they intoned the hymns of ascent (or of the steps), because joy filled their soul on seeing that the finishing line is near. The Christian should sing and walk as he ascends towards the heavenly Jerusalem, knowing that despite the difficulties, God himself gives him the strength and the grace.
Your Gift inflames us and by Him we are lifted on high: we are inflamed, we walk, we ascend the stairs disposed in our heart and we sing the Hymns of Ascent. With your fire, yes; with your holy fire we are inflamed and we walk, because we walk upwards, towards the peace of Jerusalem (conf. 13, 10).
One final element. The traveler is called to follow the Way who is Christ, who grants his grace so that he can advance more every day without delaying. But the old St. Augustine, after having traveled practically all the pathways of life, realized that the traveler must pray and ask for one thing: perseverance. St. Augustine, having arrived at the sunset of his life, had known many believers who had started to walk happy and enthusiastic for the Christian Way, but after some time, had fainted in this desire. Thus St. Augustine invites to pray for the gift of perseverance. It is not in human hands to know how the day of tomorrow will be, that is why it is necessary to pray and ask God that we may not faint along the way that leads to the eternal homeland, but that every day we may walk together with the faithful people, until we arrive at the holy goal, until we arrive at the kingdom of God.
It is easy to hear the voice of Christ, it is easy to praise the Gospel, it is easy to acclaim a preacher; but to persevere until the end, it is proper to the sheep who hear the voice of the Shepherd (Io. eu. tr. 45, 13).
Five urgent tests: Synodality is … to walk together.
Texts of the Document “Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church” (SVMI), of the International Theological Commission, 2018.
1. “The Church, People of God, manifests and realizes concretely her being Communion in walking together, in coming together in an assembly, and in active participation of all its members in the evangelizing mission” (SVMI 6).
2. “The perseverance along the Way of Unity despite the diversity of places and cultures, situations and epochs, is the challenge to which the People must respond to walk in fidelity to the Gospel while it sows the seed in the experience of diverse peoples” (SVMI 24).
3. “It is the People of the Way (Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9) towards the Heavenly Kingdom (Phil 3:20). The Synodality is the historical form of her travel in communion, until the final rest (Hb 3:7 – 4:44). The Faith, Hope and Charity guide and inform the pilgrimage of the assembly of God “in view of the future city” (Hb 11:10) (SVMI 50).
4. We deal with the behavior contained in the formula sentire cum Ecclesia: this “to feel, to experience and perceive in harmony with the Church” that “unite all the members of the People of God in pilgrimage” and is “the key to her ‘walking together’” (SVMI 108).
5. “Walking together –teaches Pope Francis- is the Way constitutive of the Church; the figure that permits us to interpret the reality with the eyes and the heart of God; the condition to follow the Lord Jesus and to be servants of the life in this wounded time” (SVMI 120).
From Word to Action.
Synodality is an invitation to walk, what impediments exist in your life and in your community to take the road?
Walking implies being conscious of being pilgrims and of putting the heart on things of heaven and not on things of earth. What importance does prayer have in your life as an essential exercise of a pilgrim? How can you improve prayer in your life? Describe your prayer in three words.
No one walks alone, but that synodality reminds us that we walk together as Church, and as people of God. How do you manifest your interest for your community, your local Church and the universal Church? What importance does discernment have for you as an instrument that helps you to walk in community and to fulfill the will of God? Do the needs of the Church “hurt” you (sentire cum Ecclesia)?
The temptation of the traveler is the “sofa” and the “installation”. How can you overcome this temptation? Mention three elements that distinguish you as a pilgrim of God, or that will have to distinguish you as a pilgrim of the City of God.
Walk on the road with all the nations, walk on the road with all the peoples, oh sons of peace, oh sons of the only Catholic (Church); walk along the road, sing while walking. This the travelers do to lighten the work. Sing along this road, I beg of you along the same road, sing along this road. Sing a new song; let no one sing an old song. It is a new road, new traveler; therefore, sing a new song! (en. Ps. 66:6).