“Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, together. Let us look at Jesus in the Gospel who first encounters the rich man on the road; then he listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life." - Pope Francis, 10 October 2021
Last Monday I spent the better part of my day in the emergency department of a public hospital. All walks of life seeking aid were present in distressing situations. These were the people walking with Covid, with limited resources, in a reality wretched and failing, and at the same time, graced by God.
Sadly, I cannot say that I was good to the people around me. What little I did, seemed always short of enough, and it was the random acts of others that really helped. Like the man who was frustrated by my hands-off attempt to guide a patient through the bureaucratic process, and eventually stepped in to physically sort and retrieve the patient's documents. Or the woman accompanying a relative who casually took over another patient's files and placed it in the right place.
I realised that I had not wanted to walk the same road as those patients. I did not want to assume responsibility nor be emotionally vested in them. More than anything, I did not want to be a close contact of a Covid patient. In contrast, what of the woman and the man who did so?
Jesus would have accompanied all the people in need, like that woman and man, acting effectively with love and simplicity. The Bible presents many outstanding vignettes, deeply rich and theological, formative and inspiring. Like a tapestry chosen and woven for its rich colours and intricate patterns. What of Jesus’ mundane, everyday life? I believe Jesus would have done these simple acts of kindness, just like that woman and man.
I feel ashamed for not walking with people, for thinking I am better than them, for rejecting the journey they are on. I am also painfully aware of those whose lives are entwined with mine, and the impact which my Covid infection would have on them. This is part of the complicated reality that walking on the same road as others entails. We all have a hand in shaping that reality. Like reorienting our resources to deal with challenges and creating opportunities for grace.
On 17 October, archdioceses worldwide started their journey towards the 2023 Synod on Synodality. In an interview by his colleague Hosffman Ospino, my former Boston College professor, theologian Rafael Luciano, distils many key concepts that apply not only to the present process of synodality but also indicates how Vatican II should be received. Two words struck me — consensus and collegiality.
Out of the bickering that accompanies Christians is a call to consensus — sensing and walking together to realise the reality of the other. Jesus profoundly walked together with the people he encountered. Note how he expanded the scope of his mission to include the Gentiles (Mark 7:24-30) in his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Jesus truly listened to her in his praying and discerning. He sensed the reality of that Gentile woman, and acted accordingly.
The other is of collegiality — of working together, but not homogenously. Of working for the same values, but responding in different ways due to differing circumstances or needs. My response to my circumstances dictates how I orient my resources and actions. Each family navigates this pandemic with the knowledge, resources and the graces they have. What little we have is enough.
I may not be a saint in directly helping those patients in need, but perhaps that is all I needed to do, as eventually others stepped in to complete those acts of kindness. Do I have a yearning to help? Yes. Could I have done more? Yes. And that is a thorn that will stick in my side.
MICHAEL PHUNG, SJ