Pope Francis celebrated Mass on October 10 for the official opening of the World Synod of Bishops and invited dioceses to do the same with a Mass on October 17. This past Sunday at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, I celebrated a Mass for a Council or Synod to mark the opening of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October 2023.
The preparatory documents indicate that the theme for the Synod is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” If that sounds familiar, you might recall that “Communion and Mission” was the theme of our bicentennial year.
As puzzling as the terms “synodality” and “synodal Church” might sound, they are a restatement of what our Church does. “Synod” is a Greek word that literally means “on the same path” so the Holy Father has asked the whole Church to “journey together” on the same path in communion with one another.
In communion, we join with one another to listen to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and prayerfully discern God’s will for us. Our mission, as a faith community, is to act upon what we’ve heard.
Contrary to the emphasis our culture places upon quantifiable outcomes in measuring success, synodality is an ongoing process expressed in our willingness to journey together. The 2023 World Synod of Bishops will not be an end, i.e., an outcome, for the process. Rather, it will mark a continuation, as we continue journeying together as a Church.
Our world, and sometimes even the Church, can seem divided along cultural, political and economic lines. We experience division from one another because of our own selfishness and sinfulness.
As a counter to this experience, synodality leads us to listening, speaking, accepting co-responsibility for participation in the process, discerning and deciding. With the guidance of pastors and, more importantly, the inspiration of and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, we journey together in fortifying communion within the Universal Church as well as our local Church.
It is imperative that the Church continually seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, keeping in mind that the work of the Holy Spirit is not our activity. It is God’s activity in us – enabling and engaging us, inspiring and assisting us, and walking with us.
As the Holy Father has expressed, synodality is neither a program nor a slogan. It is a style for evangelization, a way of life for individuals and for the Catholic community, and an impetus for proclaiming the Gospel — which is why the Church exists.
Over the next several months, our ad hoc Diocesan Evangelization Commission will be working to facilitate responses from diocesan advisory groups as well as from parish councils on these synodal questions:
- How is journeying together happening today in our parishes and diocese?
- What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our journeying together?
- What experiences of our local Church does this question call to mind? What joys did they bring? What difficulties and obstacles have they encountered? What wounds did they reveal? What insights have they revealed? Where in these experiences does the voice of the Holy Spirit resound?
- What is the Spirit asking of us?
- What are the points to be confirmed, the prospects for change, the steps to be taken?
- Where do we register a consensus? What paths are opening up for our local Church?
As in any consultative process, we will be looking at larger trends, threads that are common among the entities that are consulted. The input from these representative bodies will be compiled and included in a synthesis of all the U.S. dioceses’ responses. That will be compiled by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and submitted to the Vatican’s General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
The Vademecum — a handbook for the synod — notes that the objective for the synod “is to listen, as the entire People of God, to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.” That leads us to ask: How can the Church make that come alive and express it in a practical way?
As we join with Pope Francis in the opening of the synod, I invite you to pray the Prayer for the Synod that our journey together will prove fruitful in proclaiming and living the will of God in our local Church and in the Church Universal.