Synodalia: Have you noticed what’s missing?

One thing sadly, disastrously, absent from the Synod from the scanty information we have been permitted to receive, is eternity. We look to the woefully deficient Relatio, or working document, that was so unwisely released (perhaps as a belated gesture of transparency and consultation). In its opening paragraphs it seeks to set the synodal discussions in a context, and that context is purely this-worldly. It is as if it is only this life, this world, that truly matters. The focus is entirely socio-anthropological. The closest it comes to moving our eyes away from our navels is the exhortation to have our “gaze on Christ” (#4, et infra). Yet this phrase is never adequately unpacked, except that we look to Christ for teaching on marriage.

eternity

As Archbishop Sheen was so fond of reminding us, Christ came to die. That was his mission: that by the self-sacrificial death on the Cross of his mortal human body we might share in his divine life for eternity. Christ made a condition of following him that we deny ourselves and take up our cross to share in the eternal fruit of his Cross. So intent was his own gaze on eternity that he admitted that following him would divide families, setting one against another. His moral teaching was oriented toward a full identification with him in every aspect of our lives and our dealing with others. He commanded us to love, yes; but then taught us that love is essentially and necessarily selfless, its summit found in laying down one’s life for another. As Christ did for us. We know not that day nor the hour. Live, he bids us, so that you are ready for death and judgment.

What the Relatio calls the “Gospel of the family” can only make sense if it is related to the core gospel of Christ. Family, marriage and sexuality for a Christian must serve eternity and help prepare us for it. Yet the Relatio seems intent on trying to make things as easy as possible in this life for people who do not follow the core Gospel of Christ. If eating and drinking unworthily of the Eucharist brings dire judgment upon us (1 Cor 11:29), and if unworthily has always been defined as labouring under grave, unremitted, sin, then how can granting those in grave sin the Eucharist be helpful to them? Only if our focus is not on eternity, but on here and now, feeling accepted, included and the like. Nowhere in the Relatio do we hear the fundamental gospel proclamation: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The temporal, secular focus of this document is lamentable. We see now through a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Surely the Synod needs to be reminding the Church that what we experience and feel now is no guide to anything but the nature and degree of our need for God and his truth. The answer, then, is to satisfy this need for God and his truth by focusing on that which he has definitely revealed to us through scripture and the timeless teaching of the Church.

The bottom line of Christianity is that it is to prepare us for death and eternity, the last things that are so starkly absent from the Relatio. There is comfort in the knowledge that the Relatio is only a “working document”; but if it is representative of the Synod’s work, they have been wasting a great deal of time and money. It has no binding force whatsoever. It should, must, be ignored.

Instead, for now let us live well as the Church has always taught us in fidelity to Christ, with our eyes set in hope on death, and eternity.

Eternity

If you have not yet been to Mass, or have forgotten the readings for today’s Mass, then read them again, in particular the first reading from the prophecy of Habakkuk, and the gospel from St Luke.

One thread running between the two readings is the need to keep before our eyes the big picture, the fuller perspective within which the events of our lives play themselves out. If we refrain from reacting rashly and have faith in God’s will for our ultimate good then we can go about our lives with some degree of contentment. Faith, even in the midst of the most bitter trials, is the key to rising above our trials and not wilting beneath their weight. Faith gives us access to the big picture in which our lives are a scene among many. The big picture is eternity.

Stace caught in the act for the only time

In Sydney, Australia, one man’s mission for almost 40 years was reminding people, in the simplest of ways, of the reality of eternity. From the early 1930s to the 1960s the word “Eternity” would mysteriously appear overnight on Sydney’s footpaths, chalked in an elegant script. Over more than 35 years the word appeared almost 500,000 times on the streets of Sydney. The identity of the one responsible was unknown and became the subject of urban legend. The Sydney city council even sought to prosecute him for defacing the public footpaths. Yet it was not until 1963 that he was caught in the act by a photographer. But after 1967 there would be no more chalked reminders of eternity on the streets of Sydney. The writer had died.

An example of Stace's handiwork

The apostle of eternity was a man named Arthur Stace. Up to 1930 he had been an alcoholic and petty criminal. In 1930 he was converted to Christianity after hearing a sermon at St Barnabas’ church, in Broadway, inner Sydney. From this day he gave up drinking and crime. Not long after his conversion he heard a sermon in which the preacher exclaimed, according to one account, “Eternity! Eternity! I wish I could shout ‘Eternity’ through the streets of Sydney!” The words echoed in his head and he felt a call to do just what the preacher desired – to emblazon “Eternity” across the streets of Sydney, and so after the service he bent down and wrote the word on the pavement for the first of many more times. Remarkably Arthur was illiterate and could barely write his Christian name legibly, yet he wrote the word “Eternity” with the most elegant and consistent script, a phenomenon he could never explain. Several times he tried to expand his repertoire of messages, but they never lasted and he always returned to “Eternity”. It was truly his vocation to write that one word.

Arthur Stace’s life was one little life among millions that formed a part of the big picture that is eternity. Converted to Christianity from poverty, alcohol abuse and petty crime, he proved that it does not require great gifts of mind to grasp the reality of eternity which gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and within which our lives will be judged. A simple man with few skills, nevertheless he has left an enduring impact on a city of millions. On the eve of the Millennium in Sydney, his famous word in its classic script were lit up on the side of the Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, 31/12/1999

Perhaps we might spend a minute considering to what extent we live our lives with an eye on the bigger picture of eternity. After all, Arthur Stace spent more than 35 years pondering and proclaiming this mysterious truth of our existence.

On one of the few occasions that Arthur wrote something other than “Eternity”, he showed that he was not without a sense of humour:

Arthur is Jesus’ brother and is the poor devil who cops the lot.