This past Sunday, October 17, the diocesan phase of the Synodal Process—already begun in Rome on October 10th—opened around the world. Although reports this week show that only about half of US dioceses were prepared to begin this diocesan phase, many did open the “Synod on Synodality” with a Mass celebrated by the local bishop.
Here we have gathered excerpts from homilies and statements given by bishops around the United States, introducing the Synod to their people and expressing unity with Pope Francis’s mission and vision for the Synod.
Bishop Steven Raica of Birmingham, AL
It is not merely an academic exercise…More than deferring to those in the upper echelons of church leadership, the Synod seeks to listen to the Word of God above all and also to one another in order to guide the effectiveness of our pastoral initiatives and efforts. It is a beautiful concept, but it takes time to grasp. I think we are at the beginning of a very beautiful journey together…I assure you there is no predetermined outcome, we will see where it goes.
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis, MO
Synod affirms the gifts of all our faithful in taking responsibility for the mission of our Church. Jesus calls each of us through our baptism to be his witnesses in the world, to in a sense be evangelizers for his name. Synod recognizes each has a distinct charism. We are called not to be bystanders, but participants.
Pope Francis in his homily last week asked, “how good is the hearing of our heart?” Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith, even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected, or judged? To discern our own gifts we have to be listeners who hear the voice of Christ as he speaks to us through the voices around us. The Holy Father’s words always challenge me like Jesus does, but he does not allow us to remain right where we are in our complacency.
This upcoming Synod on the synodality of the Church gives us great insight into our vocation as followers of Jesus Christ. “Encounter, listening, and discernment” is not just the process for the Church’s major Synod but the way of following Christ in our daily lives. Only there can we be assured of responding to the Holy Spirit who enlivens us as disciples and encounter our world with the eyes of Christ himself. The words of Pope Francis at the conclusion of his homily set the stage for the continuation of this Synodal Process: “Dear brothers and sisters…let us have a good journey together. May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. Let us not miss out on the graceful opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment in the joyful conviction that even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR of Newark, NJ
Folks on either side of the aisle may not be happy with this process. Traditionalists and progressives have a problem with synod because it is not tied to a firm agenda. And, if you look around us, we have no model in the pews, in this pulpit or in the sanctuary to say “yes! that’s what we must do”.
The Synod is a call to unity for all of us, in the pews, in this pulpit, in the sanctuary. A call that binds all of us to a communal act of obedience that is, first and foremost, listening.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC
This process intends to engage the entire Church in a reflective moment that underscores our mission of evangelization. We must do so together in communion with one another. Every member of the Church must feel the sincere invitation to participate in the Synodal Process. We should be inspired to speak honestly with one another and to listen sincerely to those voices that might challenge or even confuse us. We must not be afraid to hear the voices of those who may feel distant from the Church or those who have grown frustrated or scandalized by our past. We are not fashioning a new Church or a new doctrine, but we are asking the Holy Spirit to guide us into a future that He governs and now offers.
Bishop William E. Koenig, D.D. of Wilmington, DE
We need to not only listen to what the other person is saying, but hear what the other person is saying, what is going on within them. The ability to be attentive to the other person is not always easy. An example of this is the experience we sometimes have being in a social gathering and speaking to a person who is constantly looking over our shoulder to see who else is in the room who might be important and with whom the person might go and speak. As we embark on this first stage in the process, it is essential that a priority be having an openness and attentiveness to one another.
Brazilian-Born Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River, MA
I have a dream for our Diocese—to see it rise from the ashes of the coronavirus pandemic as a renewed Church, as people, centered on Jesus and the Eucharist, with the synodal process as its main character. A united Church with active participants focused on the teachings and Real Presence of Jesus. Do you have a dream for our Church today and for the future?
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, AR
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 the people be who feel excluded in today’s Church? How about people who experience same-sex attraction?
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.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, MD
In a nutshell, Pope Francis is leading us to rediscover a reality that has been at the heart of the Church’s life from the very beginning. Echoing both Scripture and ancient Christian writers, he speaks of synodality not as a recent innovation but rather as a constitutive part of the Church’s life. It goes to the heart of being “the Body of Christ” and “the People of God”. It’s at the core of the Church as a “communion” of believers, united to one another eucharistically, in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Synodality touches the essence of a diverse Church that is rooted in and manifests the unity of the distinct persons of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Synodality emerges from all these ways of looking at the Church, and it means that we participate in the faith, not as isolated individuals, nor as ideological factions, but rather as fellow believers united by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). Synodality requires us to build a “culture of encounter” in the grace of the Holy Spirit. It means creating an atmosphere of hospitality and welcome wherein we learn how to live our faith together, in patience and charity. Synodality means a deep respect and openness to our fellow Catholics coupled with a willingness to listen, dialogue, and discern with fellow believers . . . including those with whom we disagree, theologically, philosophically, and politically.
Bishop William Byrne of Springfield, MA
The key of this process is that we don’t show up with our own agenda. We first hear what others have to say and share what’s on our hearts. The essential quality is this: that the Holy Spirit does not speak to the pope alone. The Holy Spirit doesn’t talk to bishops only, not to priests only, not to people with Roman collars or religious habits. The Holy Spirit is speaking to each and every single one of us. And so we have to be able to listen ourselves, to what it is that we desire as Church. You are as much a part of the Church as the pope or me or anyone else, and so by the nature of our baptism we are called fundamentally to be members of that body.
But therein lies also a duty with that dignity. It’s not just the dignity of our baptism but a duty to be actively engaged in the life of the Church. And the question we’re going to ask ourselves is, “What is God asking of us?”
Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, UT
This is a pivotal moment in the life of the Church, to open its doors, its ears and its heart to listen to the voice of the people on how we are doing as a Church and what we want the Church to be in the coming years,” he added, saying that the synod process is “a call to mission to profess our faith in Jesus, to share our belief with one another and to carry that mission in the spirit of service and sacrifice.”
Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg of Reno, NV
The Lord is calling his Church to let go of our divisive struggles and to seek the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. From above, not from below. This synodal process, then, is not about fighting for our opinions or campaigning for our issues, but the synodal process really is about listening for that whisper of truth, that seed of inspiration. About hearing the question we should be asking rather than the answer we are selfishly defending. And we will most likely experience that inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the voice of another person rather than our own, and for that reason Pope Francis is asking us to listen to everyone–as many as we possibly can–to hear the voice of the Spirit.
Remember this: when it comes to the Body of Christ, there are no spare parts. We all have a critical part to play in the mission of the Gospel, the mission of making God known. If we aren’t part of that mission already, it’s not because we don’t have a place, it’s because we haven’t found our place. No one–no one–is excluded from the joy of the Gospel, and the joy of the Gospel doesn’t reach its fullness until we share it with others.
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Rachel Amiri is a contributor and past Production Editor for Where Peter Is. She has also appeared as the host of WPI Live. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with degrees in Theology and Political Science, and was deeply shaped by the thought of Pope Benedict XVI. She has worked in Catholic publishing as well as in healthcare as a FertilityCare Practitioner. Rachel is married to fellow WPI Contributor Daniel Amiri and resides in St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising three children.