by Fr. Keith Branson, C.PP.S., Leadership Council
Aunt Grace was my favorite relative when I was growing up. From time to time, she visited my grandparents, who lived up the street from us, and she always made time to take my brother, sister, and me on a day trip, usually to Kansas City. We lived our lives almost exclusively around my hometown, so these excursions were exciting. We visited art galleries, museums, historical sites, and several shopping malls. It was how we learned our way around the city and the wider world.
Whenever she missed a turn or went down the wrong road, she had a very relaxed attitude; she always said, “We’ll just go around the block and enjoy the scenery.” These detours were just one more part of the adventure, a few more things for us to discover that we wouldn’t have otherwise. That attitude has served me well as I got to know other cities like Chicago or San Francisco; I was able not to panic when I went the wrong way, and I would use the detours as a chance to get to know the area better. At times I even found more places I wanted to visit or more convenient roads to travel. They expanded my life in ways beyond my intended route.
I’m sure many of us are disappointed the October assembly was postponed due to Covid. Postponement has been an ugly fact of life over these past two years, and hopefully, it has given us a chance to become more patient people. However, something is going on in the Church now that we may find helpful as we travel this detour together: the Synod of Bishops Pope Francis opened on October 10th. It is the beginning of a two-year process and will feature more participants at the synod throughout the Church than ever before in history. In a sense, Pope Francis is trying to make the entire Church a new creation.
Pope Francis sees this as “…not a parliament nor a survey of opinions, (but rather)…an ecclesial moment whose protagonist is the Holy Spirit.” Its purpose is to foster unity in the Church in the Spirit of Vatican ii, calling all baptized members of the Church to participate fully in its life. He highlighted this importance in talking about those who work for the Church: “…we must acknowledge the frustration and impatience felt by many pastoral workers, members of diocesan and parish consultative bodies and women, who frequently remain
on the fringes. Enabling everyone to participate is an essential ecclesial duty!”
There are two more quotes from the opening of the synod which caught my eye:
Let us ask: in the Church, are we good at listening? …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?
On the contrary, whenever we enter into dialogue, we allow ourselves to be challenged, to advance on a journey. And in the end, we are no longer the same; we are changed.
It’s tempting when we’re on a detour to turn off our mind and to focus on how we get back on the right road, to the exclusion of everything else. We have a great opportunity in this detour to learn more about ourselves and each other, provided we stay in dialogue. We shouldn’t stop the discernment clock here to rewind it in June. We can make a lot more progress in building a new creation than if we had kept on schedule. Just as Pope Francis says the synod isn’t a convention or a congress, our new creation cannot be just a corporation and a pastoral plan. Pope Francis says by listening to the Holy Spirit, the synod can be a process of healing. By taking this additional time to listen to the Holy Spirit together, we can better receive the gift of a New Creation.
Bibliographies are rare at the end of leadership columns, however, here are four good articles I found about the new synod’s opening:
“‘There is no need to create another church, but to create a different church,’ Francis says before synod.” https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/10/09/pope-francis-synod-address-communion- participation-mission-241607
“Pope opens synod journey with reminder it’s not a convention or a congress.” https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2021/10/pope-opens-synod-journey-with-reminder-its-not-a-convention- or-a-congress/
“By listening to Holy Spirit, synod can be process of healing, pope says.” https://cruxnow.com/cns/2021/10/by-listening-to-holy-spirit-synod-can-be-process-of-healing-pope- says/
“Experts see synod as ‘biggest consultation exercise in human history’.” https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2021/10/experts-see-synod-as-biggest-consultation-exercise-in-human- history/
This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue of the New Wine Press.