New synodal process is an opportunity to gather, listen, and reflect
Merry Christmas! I hope that the time spent with family and friends in this beautiful season is joyful and peaceful. The celebration of Christmas reminds us that God is with us in Jesus, the Son. In good times and bad, Jesus is truly with us, a pure gift we all are blessed to receive.
With great hope, we move into a new year, 2022, and as we do, I want to talk with you about a new endeavor initiated by Pope Francis. He has announced a new synod and is calling for active participation from the whole Church in its preparation. “Synod" is certainly not a word used often, except in Church circles. But, in fact, synod is a meeting. The word itself means ‘to be on a journey together.’ Past synods have dealt with issues such as the life of priests and challenges to families. This synod will be different. It will ask how we are to walk together as a Church community moving forward.
Pope Francis has been struck, as have we all, by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the life and activity of us as people and as members of our Church. He is asking us to reflect together on how we are to respond. The synod will be a process grounded in prayer, listening, and dialogue. It will be entitled For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, & Mission. The process is an invitation from the Holy Father to the global Catholic Church to gather and reflect on what joins us together as a community, how do we see to it that many people participate in the life of the Church, and how do we invite others to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
The fundamental question that will guide the whole synodal process is this: how does our “journeying together” take place today on the different levels in the Church, and is it allowing the Church to best proclaim the Gospel? A central aspect of this synod is its appreciation that the Church consists of different people who have a variety of opinions on these questions. Thus, for this discernment to be real, everyone needs to be heard, women and men, from young people to the elderly. We are invited to listen to one another to hear how the Holy Spirit is speaking through us and to us.
In the coming months, there will be a phase of consultation in the Diocese of Portland that will include meetings and discussions by a variety of bodies in Maine’s Catholic community, including diocesan councils, parish pastoral councils, different boards of Catholic entities, and consultative groups representing our ethnic communities, young people, religious men and women, and many others. I encourage you to pay attention to the bulletin in your parish so you might know how you can best participate. Given the compressed timeline for this consultation, we also thought it would be helpful to offer an online questionnaire. Anyone who wishes will be invited to participate in the consultation by completing this questionnaire in the coming months.
It is important to remember that the work of the synod is a spiritual exercise, not a political one. In speaking of the synod, Pope Francis reminded us that our discussion is not to be understood as a kind of parliament underpinned by political battles. Pope Francis said that what makes the synod different from such a parliament is the fact that its purpose is to help us all to listen to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church. The pope tells us: “We listen, we discuss in groups, but, above all, we pay attention to what the Spirit has to say to us. That is why I ask everyone to speak frankly and to listen carefully to others because there, too, the Spirit is speaking.” The communion we are as Church calls us all to acknowledge one another and to care for each other as we listen to each other.
The purpose of this synod is not to change the teachings of Church doctrine but, rather, to discern how that teaching can be lived in the changing context of our times. The worldwide process will conclude in October 2023 with a meeting to be held in Rome of representatives from the entire Church who will reflect on the results of the consultation process and make suggestions for the future. The discoveries and input during the synodal process will enable the Church to better witness to the Gospel, especially with those who live on the spiritual, social, economic, political, geographical, and existential peripheries of our world. Like the Church throughout the world, the coronavirus has changed our diocese and the way we gather, celebrate, and serve. This is an opportunity to reflect on that and, in listening to each other, determine the best ways in which we may move forward, always seeking to make the Gospel known to others by our own witness in word and action.
As the Church of Christ, as a synodal community, we believe that we are saved together. This synodal journey invites us to explore what such a commitment means here and now and, even more so, moving forward in a world that has seen great changes during the pandemic. May we respectfully and faithfully journey together as we discern the future of our communion in the Church.
Blessings on all for a healthy new year,
Bishop Robert P. Deeley