Last month, Pope Francis announced a two-year process of reflection beginning in Rome last weekend leading up to a meeting of the Synod of Bishops to take place in October 2023. He announced that first there would be a diocesan phase of reflection between now and April, then a national phase, then a regional phase and finally the meeting in Rome. The Archdiocese phase opened with a special Mass at Holy Name cathedral last Sunday — so here we are.
The word “synod” means “journey together” and the idea is to help us be more inclusive in how we listen and discern our way forward as Church, with special attention paid to those on the margins whose concerns and perspective are so often overlooked. The three touchstones of this process are communion, participation and mission.
Communion — unity amid diversity, which finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Blessed Trinity. “It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit. Together we are inspired by listening to the Word of God, through the living Tradition of the Church and grounded in the sensus fidei that we share.”
Therefore, we all have a role — not just the priests, parish staff animators and theologians — “we all have a role to play in discerning and living out God’s call for his people” and synodality — journeying together — seeks to hear what everyone has to contribute, especially those we don’t hear from much.
Participation builds on communion and seeks the involvement of everyone in this process of deep, respectful listening to each other. The idea is that in this way “we create space for us to hear the Holy Spirit together” and thus get a sense of the direction the Church should take at this moment in history.
“In a synodal Church, the whole community” — God’s people, and the ordained — “in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will.”
Synodality requires that we really try to include those who feel excluded. Who would those people be in today’s world? How about those who lack legal status in our country? Or elderly people abandoned in our nursing homes? How about people living in crime-ridden ghetto neighborhoods?
Who would be the people who feel excluded in today’s Church? How about people who are in second marriages without the benefit of an annulment? Or people who live together outside of marriage? How about those who feel wounded by something someone from the Church said or did in the past? How can we journey with people who, for whatever reason, feel pushed to the periphery in the Church and in society? There’s a lot to learn from each other.
Mission — Then once we have a shared sense of direction, the Holy Spirit leads us forth to share the love of God with the whole human family, and especially “those who live on the spiritual, social, economic, political, geographical and existential peripheries of our world.” Through synodality we become “a leaven at the service of the coming of God’s kingdom.”
Truth is horizontal as well as vertical, and it takes humility to listen, to truly listen to the lived experience of those whose perspective on things is very different from our own. And yet the Holy Spirit is there as well — he’s everywhere!
So let us pray that through this experience we will become a more synodal Church, characterized by communion, participation and mission as we journey together reflecting on what God is asking of us today.
In the Peace of the Lord,
Fr. Bernie Pietrzak