In today’s first reading, we hear of Nehemiah’s deep sadness at the destruction of his homeland during the Babylonian exile. He pleaded with King Artaxerxes, whom he served, to return to Judah in order to rebuild it. Permission granted, he not only rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem but also tended to moral and religious reforms among the people, thus instituting a re-commitment of the people to the Lord.
It seems rather fortuitous to have this reading proclaimed today on the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi who sat in front of the cross at San Damiano church and heard Jesus say to him, “Rebuild my house, which you can see is in ruins.” Thinking Jesus was talking about the old, nearly collapsing church in which he was praying, Francis set about to rebuild its walls. In time, though, Francis realized God was asking him to rebuild the spirit of the whole Church, and he did so through the witness of prayer, poverty, and peace.
Since his election to the papacy, St. Francis’ namesake, Pope Francis, has taken up the mantle of “rebuilding the house” in countless ways – with the curia and the priesthood, with Earth itself in his encyclical Laudato Si, and now, of particular note, with the synod on the synod, which begins today in Rome. Pope Francis has prayed that “the synod be a ‘kairos’ (moment) of fraternity, a place where the Holy Spirit will purify the church from gossip, ideologies and polarization.”
Our Dominican brother, Timothy Radcliffe, echoed the pope’s sentiments in the meditations he gave to the participants on retreat in anticipation of today’s opening of the Synod. With his classic humor, humility, and honesty, Timothy challenged the synod participants, and the whole church by extension, to rebuild the walls of the church through such topics as hope, home, and friendship (the topics of his presentations thus far at the time of this recording).
As a people of faith, we are not exempt from this rebuilding of the house. The divisions of our church and our world, the destruction of our home planet, and the sufferings of our brothers and sisters near and far ought to cause us as much sadness of heart as Nehemiah experienced in hearing the news of his home community. Such sadness should drive us to want to do something to bring healing and wholeness. We can’t save the whole world, but we can consider our own corners of the world. We are invited to reflect on our own role in the breakdown of community. We can take as our examen some of the same questions Timothy put forth to the Synod participants:
Though the hopes for church and society, for my family versus my neighbor’s family, for me versus my siblings might contradict one another, what is our shared hope? How might I open my heart to the hopes of those I see as my antagonists?
The Church is meant to be a home. How can I enlarge the pegs of my tent (of my thoughts and attitudes), so that others who think differently than I do might be at home with me?
Do I dare to make friends with the other in my midst whom I wouldn’t claim as a natural companion? Do I have the courage to share my questions and doubts with another and to hear the same from them and perhaps then search together for the truth?
Having considered these questions, we, like St. Francis, can then begin to pick up the pieces of the relationships, situations, and hearts broken and scattered around us and help to rebuild the house, the home, of God.