PORTLAND---"Pope Francis has called us to celebrate a synod. That is not a word we use often, except in Church circles. But, in fact, it simply means ‘to be on a journey together.’ And this synod is about how we are to do that, how we will walk together as a Church community as we move forward.”
The words of Bishop Robert Deeley at a morning Mass on Sunday, November 21, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception kicked off the Diocese of Portland’s participation in a two-year process of listening and dialogue called, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, & Mission. The process, also being referred to as the “synod on synodality,” is an invitation from the Holy Father to the global Catholic Church to gather and reflect on communion, participation, and mission within the Church.
“The Church is made up of different people, and we certainly know that the Church throughout the world is a diverse group, but we also know that, because of our shared unity through baptism, we are all called to be active participants in the life of the Church,” the bishop said during his homily on Sunday. “This synod invites everyone to be heard, women and men, young people and the elderly, we are all invited to listen to one another in order to hear the ways in which the Holy Spirit is speaking through us and to us.”
In the coming months, the phase of diocesan consultation 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 the Latino community, the African community, teens, religious men and women, and many others. Individuals in the general public will also be invited to complete an online questionnaire if they would like to participate.
Among the topics that will be discussed and reflected upon are how prayer and liturgical celebrations inspire and guide activities; how council, group, and committee workflow from participation in the Eucharist; whether these groups are serving as effective bridges to parishioners and community members; and any obstacles that are being encountered. A group summary report will be created to sketch a profile of the results of the conversations and to identify common themes for inclusion in the public online questionnaire as well as the final report that will be submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The work of the synod is a spiritual exercise, not a political one,” said Bishop Deeley. “In speaking of the synod, Pope Francis reminds us that our discussion is not to be understood as a kind of parliament underpinned by political battles. The Pope tells us 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: ‘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. In order that our discernment for the future of the Church be real, it also needs the participation of everyone.”
The fundamental question which will guide the whole synodal process is how does this “journeying together” take place today on the different levels in the Church, from the local level to the universal community, allowing the Church to proclaim the Gospel? And what steps is the Spirit inviting us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church?”
“This is a process which will last for three years,” said the bishop. “With these celebrations of the synod opening at Masses like this, dioceses throughout the world are opening the process. It will conclude in October of 2023 with a meeting to be held in Rome of representatives from the whole Church which will reflect on the results of the process and make suggestions for the future.”
The bishop said that all that we do in this process is connected to our mission as Church, which is always centered on the announcement of the Good News of the Gospel.
“Pope Francis tells us that the purpose of this synod is not to change the teachings of Church doctrine but rather to concern itself with how that teaching can be lived and applied in the changing context of our times. The synodal process is intended to 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,” said the bishop. “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.”
Fittingly, the launch Mass on Sunday fell on the Feast of Christ the King (also known as the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe), which is a celebration of the victory of Christ and fulfilling God’s dream of bringing the world together in peace and justice.
“The feast that we celebrate today reminds us that as followers of Jesus, as the Church of Christ, as a synodal community, we believe that we are saved together. We depend on each other,” said Bishop Deeley. “This feast asks us to whom are we ultimately accountable? To whom do we owe ultimate allegiance? And it gives us an answer: Christ the King. If that is so, then the synodal journey invites us to explore together what such a commitment means here and now, and, even more so, moving forward in a world which has seen great changes over these years of pandemic.”
A special collection was held at the Mass at the Cathedral, as well as at all Masses in Maine on Sunday, for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which offers grants that support local parish initiatives which aim to solve community-wide problems, empowering the poor to make life changes that allow them to become more self-sufficient.
“Communion is at the heart of the Church,” said the bishop. “It is at the heart as well of the synod. Through our baptism we share a common dignity and vocation. We are in communion with one another and all the Church.”
A webinar on synodality will be offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth and the Catholic Apostolate Center on Monday, November 22, at 3 p.m. All are welcome to attend the one-hour dialogue on the Church’s vision of laity and its engagement in missionary synodality in Catholic communities of faith. To register for the webinar or for more information, click here.