VATICAN CITY — At the opening Mass for the Amazon synod Sunday, Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit would give the bishops prudence, wisdom and discernment to help the Church in the Pan-Amazonian region be renewed by the fire of faith.
“Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 6. “It is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit.”
“Fidelity to the newness of the Spirit is a grace that we must ask for in prayer. May the Spirit, who makes all things new, give us his own daring prudence; may he inspire our synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.”
The Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region is taking place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27. Bishops, priests, lay experts and religious men and women will meet to discuss issues of importance to the Church in the Amazon, including a lack of priestly vocations, ecological challenges and obstacles to evangelization.
Present at the Mass Oct. 6 were the synod fathers and the 13 cardinals created in a consistory Oct. 5.
In his homily, Pope Francis pointed to the Old Testament episode of the burning bush to show that “God’s fire burns, yet does not consume.”
“It is the fire of love that illumines, warms and gives life, not a fire that blazes up and devours. When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect, it is not God’s fire but that of the world,” he said, condemning the times people have colonized others instead of evangelizing them.
“May God preserve us from the greed of new forms of colonialism,” he continued. “The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel. The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity.”
Francis reflected on St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy, in which the apostle says: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”
Addressing bishops, the Pope said they are not bureaucrats and their episcopal ordination is not an employment contract, but “a gift of God.”
This gift, he explained, is for service of others, not for personal gain. “We received a gift so that we might become a gift.”
“To be faithful to our calling, our mission, St. Paul reminds us that our gift has to be rekindled,” the Pope stated, adding that the status quo smothers the missionary fire.
There is also, he said, a kind of destructive “fire” that wants everything and everyone to be the same. It “blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, for their own group, wipe out differences.”
Instead, “the fire that rekindles the gift is the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts.”
He quoted St. Paul again, who says, “Do not be ashamed, then, of testifying to Our Lord, but take your share of suffering for the Gospel in the power of God.”
“Paul asks Timothy to bear witness to the Gospel, to suffer for the Gospel, in a word, to live for the Gospel,” he said. “To preach the Gospel is to live as an offering, to bear witness to the end, to become all things to all people (Corinthians 9:22), to love even to the point of martyrdom.”
Praising especially those martyrs who died in the Amazon, he said, “For them, and with them, let us journey together.”
After Mass, Pope Francis led a traditional Marian prayer, the Angelus, from a window in the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
He reflected on the day’s Gospel passage, which contains the apostles’ request to Jesus to “increase our faith.”
“A beautiful prayer, which we must pray a lot during the day,” the Pope commented.
He explained that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives his disciples two images of faith: the mustard seed and the willing servant.
Jesus “wants to make it understood that faith, even if small, can have the strength to uproot even a mulberry tree; and then to transplant it into the sea, which is something even more unlikely,” Francis explained, with reference to Jesus’ words in the Gospel passage.
“But nothing is impossible for those who have faith,” the Pope continued, “because they do not rely on their own strength, but on God, who can do everything.”
He said the faith of a mustard seed is a faith that is humble in its acceptance of its own littleness and need for God, abandoning itself to him with complete trust.
“It is faith that gives us the ability to look with hope at the alternating vicissitudes of life, which helps us to accept defeats and suffering, in the awareness that evil never has, will never have, the last word,” he stated.
The measure of this kind of faith is service, having the “attitude of availability of the servant,” he continued.
“This attitude towards God is also reflected in the way of behaving in community: It is reflected in the joy of being at the service of one another, finding in this its own reward and not in the recognitions and the gains that can be derived from it.”