I have received a fair amount of correspondence about the Synod and the opportunity [or lack thereof] to participate in Pope Francis’ invitation to pray and reflect together on our experience of the Church. From what I see on social media, some dioceses are talking about Easter as being the wrap-up phase. If your parish or diocese has not invited you into a process—or, only a very superficial one—I would ignore the Easter deadline and proceed as you see fit.
There will be plenty of opportunities to submit data down the road. Working through a parish or a diocese is not the only avenue to communicate with the pope. That was the original plan, but too many bishops and pastors opted out of the process—we can do a postmortem later on why so many leaders are not in step with the pope on the synodal process. There is absolutely nothing in Church Law that prohibits dedicated Catholics from clustering to conduct the pope’s wishes.
But my thinking at this point is that the Synodal process is about a unity in faith that profits everyone who participates. Two things need to happen to make the process work. First, personal prayer and reflection. The synodal process is autobiographical—a profound reflection on my life with Jesus Christ and how my spiritual experience has interfaced with my life in the Church. Before any structured synodal sharing, every participant needs to do this kind of homework, to prepare oneself to talk about God in my life. As a wise lay leader in my parish observed, “the synodal process should not be reduced to a ‘bitch session.’” He is spot on. Galatians 5: 22-23 is the keystone to the process: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Second, the synodal process offers a wonderful opportunity to build smaller communities of faith within the Church. There is nothing to stop us from forming groups to reflect upon life in the Church and continuing them, even permanently, after the formal synodal process has concluded. A series of synod get-togethers may evolve into a more permanent bonding of prayer, friendship, adult education, and service in communion with Christ. Naturally, I am not talking about independent bodies separate from the life of the parish or the universal Church. But when we talk about our parishes as “communities,” the fact is that most parishes are too large and diverse to provide the affective sense of belonging exemplified in the Acts of the Apostles [4: 32-34]: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”
Something to consider, too, is the upcoming summer season. Summers become something of a spiritual parish desert. We can bloom some flowers during the Dog Days. There is nothing to stop you from inviting neighbors and friends over to your house for coffee, cookies, and spiritual intimacy. If you are thinking of initiating such a group endeavor—and “group” can be as small as five people--you can consult with your local director of faith formation in your parish who in most cases would be delighted to help you organize and give some guidance.
I am recovering from my second Moderna booster today; I got the shot yesterday in anticipation of travel at the end of the month. The shot must be working because my body is fighting it like crazy. But side effects notwithstanding, my goal is to begin providing a series of reflections on the synodal questions provided by the Diocese of Allentown, PA, which has done an excellent job in putting forth an organized discussion outline. I might recommend that you visit and download the Allentown outline sooner than later, as I don’t know how much longer it will be available.
I should note here that I have created a separate stream on the Catechist Café website for Synod posts and discussions.
Here is a summary of the discussion points from the Allentown resource:
PARTICIPATION IN LIFE OF THE CHURCH
Describe ways that you learned about being Catholic. (e.g., Raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, RCIA/Convert, married a Catholic)
How would you describe your relationship with the Catholic Church today? Has it changed over time? How?
Would you call it fulfilling? Why or why not?
Does your parish offer a spirit of welcome and inclusion to all in the community?
Does prayer, Mass, the Sacraments, and other Church celebrations inspire and guide your life with the Church?
Why or why not?
Does your participation in your parish help to inspire important decisions in our life? Why or why not?
What joy does the Church bring you now or in the past?
What do you think is the mission of the Church? What areas of mission is the Church fulfilling? What areas need
more attention? What areas are being neglected?
DIALOGUE IN CHURCH AND SOCIETY
When you reflect on your parish community, is there diversity in dialogue that is representative of a wider
community? Why or why not?
Do you believe the Catholic church listens to the whole People of God? If so, how? If not, why not?
What issues in the Church and community should be highlighted?
What dialogue and collaboration does the Church have with believers of other religions and with those without
Do you feel there is space in your parish for the voice of all people, including those both active and inactive in their faith?
Are you aware of tools and procedures that the Church uses to promote transparency and accountability?
CATHOLIC IDENTITY AND RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
How would you describe your relationship with God? Would you call it fulfilling? Why or why not?
How do you think people can grow in their faith? What resources (books, clergy, retreats, services, etc.) are helpful to you?
JOURNEYING TOGETHER AS A CATHOLIC, FAITH-FILLED COMMUNITY
Where do you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? What are we being asked to do?
How can a church community help form people to be more capable of walking together, listening to one another, fulfilling the mission, etc.?
How do you think the Holy Spirit is inviting the Church community – both locally and universally – to grow together?
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