Walk this way …
# 6. As a Chapter, we invite Oblates to respond to the call of Pope Francis to recognize that we are first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God (Evangelii Gaudium (EG) 111).
#20.3 In communion, we listen intently to the voice of the Church through the process of Synodality.
ACTS OF THE 37TH CHAPTER. PILGRIMS OF HOPE IN COMMUNION.
An apparently serious study done recently at the University of Virginia showed that participants who imitated the bumbling, high-stepping, leg-waving walk performed by actors in the Monty Python sketch, “Ministry of Silly Walks,” burned more calories than those who walked with a more normal gait. Who knew that the invitation to, “Walk this way?” could make such a difference?
It is an invitation for our ecclesial time. Pope Francis, mandating a Synod on the Synod and embarking on a multiyear, global process of listening and discerning, is asking the entire church to walk in a new way.
Now, usually when we hear the injunction to, “Walk this way,” we take it to mean that we are to head in a certain direction, or follow a certain path. And indeed, Jesus, who is known as, ‘The Way,’ does invite us to follow him. But what if there is a more subtle understanding to it, one that relates more to the actual style in which we walk, the mode of walking itself? What, I wonder, would it look like if Christians, if the Mazenodian family, if the Church at large, actually walked ‘the way’ Jesus walked?
There are, I think, at least three ways Jesus walks that would make a difference. First, Jesus walks with a hospitable heart. Second, he walks with compassion, and third, he walks with urgency and purpose.
First, Jesus walks with a hospitable heart: when we look at Jesus, we can’t help but notice his radical hospitality. In the gaggle of people surrounding Jesus, we find good religious people like the Pharisees, Saduccees, and the scribes, but also all the others: the unclean, the broken, the guilty, the sick, the lost and the lonely, the outsiders and the foreigners, the women and the children. His generous welcome as he invites one and all to join him for a meal scandalizes the more puritan among them and they charge him not only with eating with sinners, but with drunkenness and gluttony. For Jesus, it seems, who is in and who is out, let alone the boundaries of purity, respectability, conformity and religiosity, simply don’t exist. Jesus, it seems, is the one who draws near, walking with whoever wants to come along.
Second, Jesus not only warmly welcomes people, he listens to them with compassion. He gazes upon people with love, as the rich young man experienced, and he listens without judgement – witness the woman caught in adultery. People are embraced in their lived reality, bringing with them their brokenness, sins, and illnesses, and they go on their way heard, forgiven, healed, and able to experience new life. With heart-warming tenderness, Jesus brings people into a circle of belonging and within that circle, transformation occurs.
Third, Jesus walks with urgency and purpose. He is on the move from village to town to city, with an energy that propels him to proclaim God’s kingdom to as many people as he can and in as many places as he can. The field is wide and the mission is great! Not for him the comfort of a soft bed and the complacency of saying, “We’ve done enough.’ Without a place to lay his head, always on the move, he is the eternal, restless pilgrim.
How can we mirror Jesus’ way of walking? First, we can practice radical hospitality, welcoming people as they are. Pope Francis speaks of enlarging the size of our tent, inviting people into a space as big as the heart of God.
Second, as we walk with people, our stance is one of compassion and kindness, accepting people as they are. Pope Francis talks of listening that is already a welcoming and of the God who hears hearts. Pope Francis asks plaintively, “How good are we in the church at listening?”
Finally, we recognize that we are a pilgrim church, on the move. Pope Francis warns us of a church that stands still, one that has lost the drive of the Holy Spirit. We must be wary of a complacency that says, “We have arrived.’ He points to Jesus’ ‘inner restlessness,’ and asks unto engage an ever-changing world, with each age reading and responding creatively to the signs of its times.
The 37th General Chapter confirms the Mazenodian family as pilgrims of hope in communion, walking with the church on the synodal path. We too hear, “Walk this way,” not as a destination to arrive at, but as a mode of being, with one another, the church at large, and the world. That doesn’t sound very silly to me.
By Sandra Prather, HOMI