Recollection Material – October 2022: SYNODALITY AND SOCIAL DIAKONIA


Lk. 10:29 – 37.

          If we walk the road together (etymological meaning of synodality), then we serve together, i.e., we seek to fulfill the διακονία of love in community.  And this is an element we cannot be careless about in the measure that we go in depth on synodality.

          The horizon of all synodal experience, at least in the Church of Christ, will always be the διακονία, specific service of faith directed towards the society and especially to the most needy brothers. In fact, it is one of the fundamental expressions of the Christian faith, we are reminded about not long ago, by Benedict XVI in the second part of his encyclical Deus Caritas est, as well as by Francis in the documents like Lumen Fidei, Evangelii Gaudium and Fratelli tutti.

          As we can see, we lack no documents and orientations from the Magisterium that remind us that diakonia should be the necessary expression of synodal attitudes and proposals, that these would not express any other thing but the nature of the Church. In this sense, it is fitting to recall that:

(…) the intimate nature of the Church is expressed in a triple task: 1-proclaiming the Word of God (κερύγμα-μαρτυρία), 2- celebration of the sacraments (λειτυργία) and 3- service of charity (διακονία). These are tasks that imply each other and cannot be separated from each other. For the Church, charity is not a kind of activity of social assistance that can also be left for others to do, but rather it belongs to its nature and is an inseparable manifestation of its proper essence (Deus Caritas est, 25).

Return to yourself.

          Today the Lord offers you a time to make a pause, so necessary in a   “society of stress”. We, religious, are not exempt from being trapped in it. A day of recollection is a day to remember that we can be free for God and in God, to share this particular experience with our own community, where together we all taste the freedom of the sons of God for the service of love.

          Then, (Christ) put water into a basin and started to wash the feet of his disciples and to dry them with the towel around his waist. (…) What is so special if he put water into the basin to wash the feet of his disciples when he already shed his blood on the ground to cleanse the dirt of our sins? What is so special if with the towel around his waist he dried the feet he had washed, when with our flesh he

took on himself he confirmed the footprints of the evangelists? And certainly, to put   the towel around his waist, he put aside the (divine) clothes he had; on the other hand, to take on the form of a slave when he emptied himself, he did not lose what he had, but assumed what he did not have. To be crucified he was entirely divested of his clothes; dead, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and his full passion is our purification (Io. 55, 6-7). 

Your voice is my joy.

          In your heart let the Words of Jesus the Master resound. Like the excellent pedagogue, he likes to teach making himself heard with the language of the one he loves and of someone who wants the best for his disciple.

          29. (A Lawyer), wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus: ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30. Jesus replied: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell victim to robbers. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 32 Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him he passed by on the opposite side. 33 But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. 34 He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over the wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ 36 Which of these three, in your opinion was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” 37 He answered. “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:29-37)

The Firmament of the Scriptures.

Biblical Keys.

          The very famous parable of the Good Samaritan has its origin in a debate between Jesus and a doctor of the Law. This was a typical exercise among the rabbis and the students of the Law of the first century, to test the orthodoxy of the interpretation among teachers. The discussion that Luke presents to us is based on the interpretation of Deuteronomy. To the answer on a very important commandment, there follows a question on who the neighbor is. In Deuteronomy the Law is justified in the attention to a brother (cf. Dt. 15:7; 16: 12). The neighbor occupies this place, not only in the level of words, but also in the content. The Book of Deuteronomy is a text with strong social concern (Dt. 10:19; 14:27; 15:1-18). It is the meaning that Jesus saves in this parable: the neighbor is not only a brother of blood, or someone pertaining to the same religion, he is some person next to me in my path, especially he who is in need.

          Furthermore, in this case, there is a man wounded and mistreated who is not able even to ask for help (v.30). The neighbor is also, as Jesus says, he who takes charge of the wounded man, because he breaks every prejudice and fear to approach and care for the other, independent of who the stranger abandoned on the road may be, or of what other nation he may be (vv. 33 & 34).

          Not only does he break cultural barriers upon approaching and caring for him, he also breaks including religious and racial lines. The Samaritan who also knows the Law, assumes the wounded as his own responsibility, and brings him to a place where he can recover, and pays for his care (vv. 34-35). The Samaritan acted not only as a neighbor, but also fulfilled the Law to the full.

          The Priest and the Levite who passed on, leaving the wounded man, personify the complaint and the reproach of Jesus on an indifferent society, who justifies itself in the fulfillment of precepts and religious practices, but who forgets the true fulfillment of the Law (vv. 31 & 32). Self-justification is the exit from a social commitment. “Who is my neighbor?” asks the doctor of the Law. This question recalls the text of Genesis and the famous answer of Cain to the question of YAHWEH: “Where is your brother?” To which Cain replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).

          Deuteronomy and the Lord Jesus insist on us that we are all brothers and responsible for one another. The care and the attention for the other are manifestations of love for the neighbor. The question on the most important commandment is not answered with a theological dissertation, but with the invitation to take charge of the needy, the poor, the wounded to help them and care for them in their need.

Augustinian Keys.

          The social διακονία is an expression of mercy, as Pope Francis reminds us in Fratelli tutti upon making the figure of the Good Samaritan a calling to authentic universal fraternity. History repeats itself and the believers cannot remain with crossed arms:

Let us look at the example of the Good Samaritan. In the text we are invited to resurrect our vocation as citizens of our own country and of the whole world, builders of a new social link. It is always a new calling, although it is written as a fundamental law of our being: that society move forward to the pursuit of the common good and, with this purpose, reconstruct time and again, its political and social order, the weaving of relationships, its human project. “(Fratelli tutti, 66).

          In a commentary on the parable of St. Luke, St. Augustine tries to offer an insight into the history of salvation and also reflects quite well his spirituality of the pilgrimage.

          A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho: it is understood that we deal with Adam and the human race, Jerusalem is the city of heavenly peace whose beatitude has tumbled down. Jericho is translated ‘moon’ and signifies our mortality because it is born, grows, wanes and dies. The robbers are the devil and his angels who stripped him of immortality and after beating him up familiarizing him to sin, left him half dead. Therefore, as regards knowing and understanding God, man is alive; in so far as he is consumed and oppressed by sin, he is dead. That is why he is said to be half dead. The Priest and the Levite who after seeing him passed on, are sign of the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament, that could not obtain any profit for salvation. Samaritan is translated ‘guardian’, signifying ‘the Lord’ with this name. The bandage for the wounds is the control of sins. The oil is the comfort of a healthy hope, because of forgiveness granted in view of a reconciliation in peace. The wine is the exhortation to work with fervent desire to the maximum. The beast of burden is the flesh in which he deigned to come to us. To be loaded on it is to believe in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church where the travelers, who return to the eternal homeland from this pilgrimage, are healed and restored. The next day correspond to the time after the resurrection of Christ. The two denarii are the two commandments of love, that the apostles received through the Holy Spirit all men, or the promise of the present and future life. Contemplating these two promises it is said: In this life he will receive seven times more, and in the future time he will attain eternal life. The innkeeper, is, therefore, the apostle. Whatever else is given him refers either to the counsel of the Apostle that says: As regards the virginity I have no precept from the Lord, nevertheless, I give an advice, or to the fact that also worked with his hands in order not to be a burden to no weak person upon offering the news of the Gospel, even though it comes with the right to eat of it” (qu. eu. 2, 19).

Augustine does nothing more than recall the traditional interpretation of this passage, that he saw Christ in the God Samaritan, the Word Incarnate who descends to ransom and redeem the fallen and wounded humanity. Nevertheless, he leaves an insight of a particular sensibility with which he makes an interpretation of the text since it reflects that along the path, we the believers are like pilgrims who need an inn, the Church, to continue advancing until the climax of the pilgrimage.

In synodal terms, we can say that walking together is nothing more than to be conscious of our pilgrimage and that diakonia finds its raison d’etre in the

solidarity example of Christ, the Good Samaritan for humanity.

Five urgent texts: Synodality, dialogue and diakonia.

Texts from the document “The synodality of the life and mission of the Church” (SVMI), of the International Theological Commission, 2018.

          1. “The People of God walks in history to share with all the yeast, the salt the light of the Gospel (…) The initiatives of encounter, dialogue and collaboration are accredited as precious stages in this common pilgrimage, and the synodal path of the People of God is revealed as a school of life to acquire the necessary ethos to practice the dialogue with everyone, without (irenismos) nor compromises” (n. 118). [irenismos = not found in dictionaries: I guess it is derived from Greek “erene = peace”, and suggests “reconciliation”; or an effort to “reconcile positions”].

2. The Church is called to manifest the Catholicity that qualifies it and the synodality in which it is expressed, are a ferment of unity in diversity and of communion in liberty. It is a contribution of fundamental relief which the synodal life and conversion of the People of God can offer for the promotion of a culture of encounter and of solidarity, of respect and of dialogue, of the inclusion and of the integration, of the gratitude and of gratuity” (n.118).

3. “The synodal life of the Church is offered, particularly, as (diakonia)  a service in the promotion of a life social, economic, and political of the peoples under the sign of justice, solidarity and peace” (n. 119).

4. The practice of  dialogue and the search for shared and effective solutions  in one who strives to construct peace and justice, are an absolute priority in a situation of structural crisis of procedures of democratic participation and the distrust in its principles and inspiring values, for the danger that they are derived in authoritarianism and technocracy” (n. 119).

5. “There is a prioritized compromise and a criterion in every social action of the People of God: it is imperative ‘to listen to the clamor of the earth as well as to the clamor of the poor’, urgentlyclaiming, in the determination of optionsand projects of the society, the position and the privileged role of the poor, the universal destination of goods, the primacy of solidarity, and the care for the common habitat” (n. 119).

From the word to the action

          Synodal life would have no meaning without a clear orientation towards service, do you believe it?

          In what do you think should your particular Church manifest the reality of social service? What are the more urgent necessities there where you live and a portion of the People of God makes way?

          In our community, what bridges of dialogue and action do we extend outwards our community in order to be builders of a more just world?

Final Prayer.

          Come, Lord Jesus, and shake up our heart fearful of greater dedication. Help us by your grace to discover in the school of life that the path of service redeems us and reveals to us the mercy of the Father to share it and proclaim it beyond the frontiers of the Church. Lead us by your Spirit to the social and existential peripheries that form part of the pilgrim people’s path. Into your hands we always entrust ourselves, O Good Samaritan. Amen. +

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Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.