NEW YORK — Pope Francis is inviting the faithful to pray, listen, discern and examine themselves personally and the church communally to determine how to better follow the path of Jesus, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said in opening the two-year churchwide synodal process.
The pope’s call to synodality — listening to the wide community of voices within the church in “the art of encounter” to discern a path forward — will help remind the faithful of Christ’s essential teaching, the cardinal said in a homily delivered Oct. 17 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Pope Francis opened the synodal process at the Vatican Oct. 9-10, leading to the launch of the listening process in dioceses worldwide Oct. 17. The pope has described the synodal path in advance of the Synod of Bishops in fall 2023 as a journey in which the entire church must be invited to participate.
For his part, Dolan described the process as one in which the pope “has asked us all to commence an examination of conscience on how we as a church are living up to the model of the church given us by Jesus.”
The cardinal said that everyone in the church — clergy at all levels, men and women religious, all laypeople and communities of faith — bring gifts to the church. Such gifts, or charisms, ranging from worship and prayer to teaching, healing, social service and administration, can be used to teach the world about Jesus, he explained.
Dolan detailed several “non-negotiables” that have been part of the church’s 2,000-year history.
Specifically, he said, the “energy and direction driving the church” is rooted in the Holy Spirit rather than individuals. In addition, he added, the principles that guide the church are rooted in the Gospel and “the patrimony of the church’s settled teaching.”
In addition, the innate dignity of every human person and the inherent sacredness of all human life “are the towering moral lighthouses on our path,” Dolan said.
He also noted that the return to God after earthly life “is most effectively accomplished precisely as a journey as we walk with and accompany each other, with Jesus as our guide.”
The earthly journey requires the faithful to “pay special attention” to people on the margins of society, particularly the sick, poor and weak, Dolan said. Wealth, he continued, “only comes from faith, trust, prayer, the sacraments” and God’s grace.
Finally, he said, “mercy, love, invitation, humility, joy, selfless, generous service and good example are our only tools, never harshness, condemnation or pride.”
“That seems to be synodality in a nutshell. We are loyal Catholics. The Holy Father has asked us to help him keep the church always under the direction Jesus, our good shepherd, intends,” he said.
In Cleveland, Bishop Edward C. Malesic compared the synodal process with the family Thanksgiving meal, the Magi’s journey to find the infant Jesus and the story about the two disciples encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
The path to the Synod of Bishops is like Thanksgiving dinner in which people come together to hear each other and to share experiences, challenges and hopes, Malesic said during a homily Oct. 17 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist to open the diocesan process.
In his second example, the bishop described the Magi as being on “a journey to the promised land of God’s reign.” Similarly, he said, the faithful are walking together to find Jesus so they can “then take him with us on our ongoing journey.”
“We must also dare to become closer to Jesus and one another along the way. We can listen to each other and discern how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives,” he said.
Jesus’s appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus is an example of how Christ “meets people where they are and walks with them as he listens to them,” Malesic explained. In the same way, the synodal process is an invitation to meet Jesus and listen to others, he said.
Calling the synodal process “the largest consultation of the human family in history,” Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle said the two-year journey ahead requires dialogue, discernment and prayer as well as “listening to the word of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.”
Such reflection, the archbishop said during a homily the evening of Cot. 17 at the Seattle’s Cathedral of St. James, will allow the church, united in Jesus, to identify the signs of the times, interpret them in the light of the Gospel and ” know how the Holy Spirit is to guide us in the world today.”
“A synodal church recognizes that laypeople, too, have an important role of holding and passing on the tradition of the church. The sense of the faith that reside in the holy people of God has a valid voice in the mission of the church,” he said.
The archbishop suggested that the process can help unify the church in a time of deep polarization.
“Rather than so many people hunkering down in their own ideas and agendas, refusing to come up for air, we need the breath of the Holy Spirit to reunite us as God’s holy faithful people, to show us the way to walk together,” Etienne told the congregation.
“Then we will be capable of seeing the world and the church through the eyes of God better, to better identify the signs of the time and interpret them through the lens of the Gospel and to better understand how to carry out the mission of Christ, the mission of the church.”
In a video posted on the homepage of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, Bishop Steven J. Raica, invited parishioners to participate in discussions that will help the local church “develop a greater missionary focus.”
“You might say the synodal process is to help identify ways in which the Holy Spirit is already at work among us, identify what may be lacking, and who may not be at the table and who we may need to hear from in order to go forward in faith,” Raica said.
“I pray that it will bring us closer together as a faith community as we proceed with a process of dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect,” he added.
The launch in dioceses begins a two-year process that culminates in the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. The synod is expected to adopt a final document that will guide the continuing development of a synodal church going into the future.
Dioceses and parishes will be engaged in nearly six months of discussions, or consultations, in which people from across the church will be invited to participate.
Each diocese is being asked to submit a summary of local discussions by April 1 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will then take a month to synthesize in a final written presentation for the Vatican.
Once the Vatican receives the synthesized reports of diocesan meetings from bishops’ conferences around the world, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops will draft by September 2022 the “instrumentum laboris,” or working document, to guide continental or regional ecclesial assemblies that will take place by March 2023.
Those assemblies will produce another set of documents that will help in the drafting of a second working document for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. The synod is expected to produce a final document on synodality throughout the church.