I was fortunate to be one of those who participated in the recent Synod 16. Per the request of my pastor, I took some time to gather my thoughts and write about the experience. The following is an unabridged copy of what will appear the the December 11th edition of the SS. Peter & Paul Parish bulletin.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Evangelization is a topic that is often overlooked, even stigmatized, by most Catholics. We tend to imagine people going door-to-door or standing on a soapbox while shouting through a megaphone. However, both of these perceptions are cliché and narrow-minded. The purpose of the Church is bring people to Christ and to led them in the path to holiness, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Evangelization has, for a long time, been a concern to Archbishop Vigneron and, appropriately, he has often said that he wishes to “change the DNA of the archdiocese”. That is, he wants us to be more mission-oriented, to bring people into the Church, to bring back those who have been away, and to challenge casual Catholics to take their faith more seriously. The archbishop tempered this zeal by repeatedly saying “this is not a membership drive”. While bringing people back to the Church and bringing in converts certainly is important, it is not our only goal. Simply getting people to take up space in a pew is not the end goal — transforming them into faithful Catholics is the goal. In other words, quality and not just quantity.
Across the archdiocese, in 2014 and 2015, we followed a Year of Prayer for a New Pentecost. At the end of this year of prayer, the archbishop said “we have been asking God to awaken in us the hearts of disciples of Jesus in order first of all to encounter Christ anew, secondly to grow daily in fidelity as His disciples, and thirdly to witness the power of His mercy to all who need it.” It was at this time that Archbishop Vigneron announced his plans to hold a synod (a meeting of church representatives).
Last year, every pastor nominated three people from his parish as possible synod members. I was nominated, accepted this nomination, and was chosen by a several-person panel from the archdiocese. Like all of those chosen, I was asked to prepare for the synod by receiving the sacraments, namely Holy Communion and Reconciliation, reading Scripture and spending time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This past spring, our parish, like all others in the archdiocese, held a meeting to discuss issues relating to outreach and spiritual growth. The feedback that people gave at this time helped determine the agenda for the synod.
The three-day synod began with a Mass on the afternoon of Friday, November 18. In his homily, Archbishop Vigneron reminded us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith, that everything we do is an extension of the Eucharist. He said “when you're at the (meeting) table, please remember this (altar) table and take that table as a sign of this one”. The archbishop said that is our mission to heal a broken world, to heal the “spiritual wounds” that people suffer from. This reminded me of the words of Pope Francis when he said that he wants the Church to be like a “field hospital”, a Church that meets people where they are, whatever state they are in, and bring them to Christ. The pope's phrase of “joyful missionary disciples” was often repeated during the synod. This threefold name identifies us as (1) disciples of Jesus Christ, (2) missionary in reaching out to those around us, and (3) joyful in knowing the Good News of salvation.
Over the course of three days, more than 400 people from across the archdiocese, at least one from every parish, met to discuss ways to improve our ministry and outreach. We were broken up into tables of ten during four in-depth conversations about evangelization, specifically how it applies to individuals, families, parishes, and the archdiocese as a whole. After each small group discussion, all of the groups gathered again to discuss their findings.
On Friday evening, we discussed how to focus on individuals. We acknowledged that catechesis is often lacking, that many Catholics have not studied the Faith in decades. Many have forgotten the teachings of the Church, never learned catechesis, or simply do not know why the Church teaches what we teach. The large group came to a consensus that ongoing spiritual formation is important and that we should not focus only on preparation for sacraments. We go through different phases throughout the course of our lives, not only when we are preparing for Confirmation or Holy Matrimony, and sometimes religious education doesn't address the issues that people are facing now.
Saturday morning began with Mass, again reminding us of the importance of the Eucharist in our Faith. After that, we talked about the challenges of evangelizing families. A family is a “domestic church” where the involvement of both parents is critical for the faith formation of children, even after the children have matured. If parents, especially the father, do not take their faith seriously, then it is highly unlikely that the children will. We talked about ways to improve marriage preparation as well as marriage counseling. We addressed the pain and discouragement people experience when family members leave the Church or are not actively following the Faith.
That afternoon, we talked about how a parish can evangelize. We were given three different issues: parish culture, parish functions, and parish leadership. Within each category, we were given at least four different options to address each issue. In each case, we had to focus on which one was the highest priority or would provide the greatest benefit. For example, under parish functions, it was decided that parishes must seek out, invite, and welcome those from outside of our parish.
On Sunday, we focused on Archdiocesan Central Services. We were given eleven options of how the archdiocese can help individuals, families, and parishes. Of these eleven options, we chose the top three that would be most beneficial. One example of these solutions was to partner with Sacred Heart Major Seminary to provide ongoing training for priests, parish staff, and lay volunteers to prepare them for evangelization and outreach.
At the end of the last discussion, we had an opportunity for final thoughts. At this point, we were able to discuss anything that wasn't already covered. The synod ended with Mass on Sunday afternoon and, at the end of this Mass, the retired Cardinal Maida said “it doesn’t end with this Mass; you are called to share, share in your challenge, to witness to the love of God and the love of Christ.”
While the synod may be over, this initiative of the archdiocese is only beginning. Archbishop Vigneron will analyze all of the content from the synod and release a pastoral letter at Pentecost, June 4, 2017. He said “this will not be put on a shelf and forgotten” as he promised to follow up with parishes periodically in the following months. Several times, he repeated the words of Venerable Solanus Casey, saying “thank God ahead of time”. We do not know exactly what is ahead of us, but we must trust in Divine Providence and be thankful for what God gives us, even if we do not fully understand it. I am thankful to God, to Archbishop Vigneron, and to Fr. Jerry Pilus for choosing me to attend this Synod. Most importantly, thank you to the entire parish, to friends, family, and everyone else, for your prayers and support.
More about Synod 16: The Michigan Catholic + Archdiocese of Detroit
A blog dedicated to the Synod: Renew, Rebirth, Resurget
Other news articles:
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
“Detroit synod aims to create ‘joyful band of missionary disciples’”
The Detroit News“Archdiocese of Detroit aims to become ‘more missionary’”
“Synod 16' embarks on transforming the Catholic church”
Port Huron Times Herald“Catholics will gather for synod on Nov. 18-20”
“Gospel won't be shared unless we share it”
“Synod fills local Catholics with the fire”