On Monday morning, Dominican Friar and former Master of the Order of Preachers, Father Timothy Radcliffe, reflected on the meaning of ‘Conversation on the way to Emmaus’ with those who will participate in the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops set to begin on Wednesday, 4 October.
We will link to his amazing series of talks at this retreat. In the first one on Emmaus he says:
Perhaps this is the first question with which we should break the silences that separate us. Not: ‘Why do you hold these ridiculous views on liturgy?’ Or ‘Why are you a heretic or a patriarchal dinosaur?’ or ‘Why are you deaf to me?’ But ‘Where are you?’ ‘What are you worried about?’ This is who I am. God invites Adam and Eve to come out of hiding and be seen. If we too step out into the light and let ourselves be seen as we are, we shall find words for each other. In the preparation for this Synod, often it has been the clergy who have been most reluctant to step out into the light and share their worries and doubts. Maybe we are afraid of being seen to be naked. How can we encourage each other not to fear nakedness?
He then goes on to say:
Many people hope that in this Synod their voice will be heard. They feel ignored and voiceless. They are right. But we will only have a voice if we first listen. God calls to people by name. Abraham, Abraham; Moses, Samuel. They reply with the beautiful Hebrew word Hinneni, ‘Here I am’. The foundation of our existence is that God addresses each of us by name, and we hear. Not the Cartesian ‘I think therefore I am’ but I hear therefore I am. We are here to listen to the Lord, and to each other. As they say, we have two ears but only one mouth! Only after listening comes speech.
We listen not just to what people are saying but what they are trying to say. We listen for the unspoken words, the words for which they search. There is a Sicilian saying: “La miglior parola è quella che non si dice’ ‘The best word is the one that is not spoken’. We listen for how they are right, for their grain of truth, even if what they say is wrong. We listen with hope and not contempt. We had one rule on the General Council of the Dominican Order. What the brethren said was never nonsense. It may be misinformed, illogical, indeed wrong. But somewhere in their mistaken words is a truth I need to hear. We are mendicants after the truth. The earliest brethren said of St Dominic that ‘he understood everything in the humility of his intelligence’.
And ends with:
One last small thought: When Jesus vanishes from their sight they say, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked to us on the road.’ (Luke 24:32) It is as if it is only afterwards that they become aware of the joy they had as they walked with the Lord. St John Henry Newman said that it is only as we look backwards at our lives that we become aware of how God was always with us. I pray that this will be our experience too.
During this Synod, we shall be like these disciples. Sometimes we shall not be aware of the Lord’s grace working in us and may even think that it is all a waste of time. But I pray God that afterwards, looking backwards, we shall become aware that God was with us all the time, and that our hearts burnt within us.
If you want read Fr. Timothy Radcliffe's entire talk, is can be found here.