In an earlier post, I noted how the Holy Father’s summons to “synodality” attracts me. His call to “journey together” reminds me of how often I travel alone and according to my own devices. Who should be my companions on the way and what provisions should I bring? Why did Jesus choose disciples and what did they contribute to his ministry? What did he mean by “follow me?” What lessons do biblical stories offer on these dynamics?
The Church provides an abundance of wonderful insight on the focus of journeying together. We read:
Synodality enables the entire People of God to walk forward together, listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to participate in the mission of the Church in the communion that Christ establishes between us. Ultimately, this path of walking together is the most effective way of manifesting and putting into practice the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God (PD, 1).
We hear once again the encouragement to advance as a community that listens and learns from one another. What we do, we do together. That must be our starting point.
On Christmas Day, some readings spoke about the shepherds who watched their flocks at night. They behold a vision of angels who tell them:
“Today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
With this news, the shepherds hastened to Bethlehem where they “found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” Thus, the local Jews come to worship the newborn child.
In the Gospel of the Epiphany, other visitors make their way to Bethlehem. Whether you call them magi or kings or astrologers or astronomers, they are people who come from afar—as the story tells us “from the East”—and they, too, travel to the crib of the newborn Jesus. They have tracked a star across the heavens. It directs them to Jerusalem and Herod, from whom they seek guidance. Herod has concerns that do not rejoice at the birth of a new king. Yet, he gathers information for the magi and sends them off towards Bethlehem. He has, however, a murderous plan to be (literally) executed after the magi have sent him the needed information.
Setting out, and once again led by the star, the foreign visitors, find their way to
. . . the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
This scene captures the meaning of the Epiphany—Jesus revealed to the whole world! Both the nearby shepherds and the magi from afar witness the great event. One group embraces a heavenly vision and the promise to a people. The other finds direction in the movement of the heavens and the confidence in a celestial order. Spirituality and science lead to the same place. Can you imagine the shepherds and the magi encountering one another on the way and sharing their stories and hopes as they journey together?
The tales of the Christmas Season tell us that different reasons bring people to Bethlehem: a census, a word borne by angels, a search for meaning, a fear of the future. As we make the journey, we can ask about our companions:
- Some are undoubtedly reliable family, friends and pastors with whom we share a faith-filled heritage and history. They offer support and stability.
- Some may be too comfortable associates. Perhaps no new word, hope or action arises among us. Do we need to review and adjust our bonds so as to challenge and change one another?
- Some might bring original ideas—a new voice, a different discipline, a challenging insight. We invite them to journey with us. Perhaps we need to employ our eyes more than our ears, our hands more than our feet, our hearts more than our minds, our imagination more than our memory. Or vice versa.
- And, some may journey towards Bethlehem for their own purposes. Disruption and aggression can characterize these figures who walk beside or before or behind us, but not with us. Like the magi, we must be alert to their intent.
Yes, making our way to Bethlehem. We do it every year. And each year, we travel with others. We can pray in these years of synodality—of journeying together—that we proceed with energy and openness. The Word of God and the Holy Spirit provide unfailing encouragement. Our companions should help to lead us along the right path, just as we contribute to their progress. Together we discover the way to the place where Jesus awaits and draws us.