Synodality is not about promulgating strategic plans or managing pastoral parish ministries through objectives. Synodality is about the entire People of God encountering each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and revitalizing the way the Church presents herself to the world.
- Recalling how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church’s journey through history and, today, calls us to be witnesses of God’s love.
- Living a participative and inclusive ecclesial process that offers everyone – especially those who for various reasons find themselves on the margins – the opportunity to express themselves and to be heard.
- Recognizing and appreciating the wealth and variety of the gifts and charisms that the Holy Spirit liberally bestows for the good of the community and the benefit of the entire human family.
- Exploring participatory ways of exercising responsibility in the proclamation of the Gospel and in effort to build a more beautiful and habitable world.
- Examining how responsibility and power are lived in the Church, as well as the structures by which they are managed.
- Accrediting the Christian community as a credible subject and reliable partner in paths of social dialogue.
- Regenerating relationships among members of Christian communities, as well as between communities and other social groups.
- Fostering the appreciation and appropriation of the fruits of recent synodal experiences on the universal, regional, national, and local levels.
CORE QUESTION 1 – SHARING RESPONSIBILITY
As baptized persons in the Catholic faith, we are called to actively participate in the Church’s Mission (to care for one another with love as Jesus taught and to extend that same love to those both in and beyond our community, especially to the poor and most marginalized in society). How does the Church help me live out this calling in society in a missionary way? As a faith community, how well are we living up to this mission call? There are so many fallen-away Catholics and disaffiliated Catholics. How might they understand or misunderstand the mission of the Church? How can the Church make its mission more explicit?
- Importance of outreach and witness
- Need for evangelization
- Empathy and concern for those who have left
- Sources of disagreement / divergence
- Need for continual learning
Our responsibility for our mission in the words of one person can be stated as ‘The health of any parish is in direct correlation to how well the community serves the poorest of the poor.’ Participants spoke extensively about the need to reach out in the broader communities to live our mission and to witness to others. We felt that the current outreach of the parish and the Church in general, is substantial, but it was noted that we need to listen to voices that are calling us to further action. We must help parishioners get out of their comfort zones and reach out by making volunteer opportunities well known and easy to join.
We saw a need to evangelize, and to use courage and kindness in doing so. Several stressed the importance to meet others where they are as Jesus did. The word welcome was key in discussing how we need to be toward others. We must let others see that we are living the faith beyond the church building and beyond Sundays.
Participants addressed the question of fallen away Catholics with concern for bringing them back into the Church. There was recognition that both those who have left and many who are on the journey with us do not feel they belong. Several people noted specific reasons groups of people feel separated from the Church. The most commonly mentioned reasons are: a need for women in the church hierarchy and the priesthood; feelings of alienation of the LGBTQ community; and feelings of alienation among divorced Catholics. Some felt that there has been so much focus on rules and guidelines that we’ve missed the mission and the people sitting in our pews.
There was recognition for the influence of society in pulling people away from the church and each other, especially where social media is concerned. Some felt that separation due to Covid has been detrimental to our faith community. Yet others felt that there is fracture because of misunderstanding of church teaching around topics like contraception, sexuality, and the sacraments; saying that one can come each week but not understand why.
Overall, a need for continued learning about the faith was stressed by many. We need teaching about the faith not only to reach out externally, but to strengthen those who are in the pews. Some spoke of both the need for further financial help for Catholic education, and to inform people of assistance that is already in place.
CORE QUESTION 2 – CELEBRATION
How do prayer and liturgical celebrations nurture me (e.g. deepen my personal faith life, inform the way I make decisions, influence the ways I interact with others, support my engagement in our shared mission, etc.)? How can we more actively inspire greater participation in the mission of this community?
- Appreciation for the Liturgy at our parish
- Drawing people to the Mass and active participation
- Nourishing ourselves with the Word and prayer
Our participants appreciate the Mass as celebrated here at Holy Spirit and consider it a privilege to attend. Our congregation has a history of participating in a manner that draws people to us. Several people discussed their appreciation for the music ministry and the preaching, specifically. There was mention of the fact that the Mass is centered on Biblical teachings and that we read the Bible every week. The Mass serves to set the tone for the week and centers our mindset in Jesus. It brings us comfort and peace; and helps us to be better in all the roles we play in life.
To encourage more active participation in the Mass we need those who are already active to be more joyful about it. There was recognition that to participate one needs to feel comfortable, and often people see active participation as something only ‘for the holy.’
Participants recognized that historically Catholics have treated their faith as a private matter. We are not as vocal as our evangelical brothers and sisters. We need to start speaking up, to be moved by the Holy Spirit. While some saw challenges in inviting people to Mass because they cannot participate in the Eucharist, others emphasized looking to the future and taking seriously the responsibility to evangelize. Participants stressed that person to person invitation is the most effective way to draw others to the Mass.
Nourishing ourselves at Mass will allow us to do this outreach. Others will see the love in us. A key aspect of that nourishment is the readings. We are invited in the Word to go out to ‘deeper water’. Silence in our prayer life also helps prepare us to be able to express our faith to others. Some saw a need for people to learn ‘how to pray’ – that prayer is more a conversation with God than a formal process.
CORE QUESTION 3 – LISTENING AND DIALOGUE
What are the places and means of dialogue within our local Church, especially when there are divergences of vision, conflicts, or difficulties to be addressed? How should these dialogue experiences help us to gain mutual understanding and acceptance for differences of beliefs, experiences, opinions, world views, etc.? How is God speaking to us through voices we sometimes ignore? How can we create space for the voices of the marginalized? How can the Church, as a whole, better reflect a spirit of listening?
- Synod as a beginning of listening
- Listening opportunities within the parish
- Place for expressing issues / divergence on the goal of listening
- Voices that are not heard
Many in our groups were energized by the Synod and said that it is happening in God’s time and creating a platform to listen and dialogue. There is hope that the Synod will be the start of regular conversation to flow up to Church hierarchy from the laity.
Within the parish participants recognized that the pastor is available to listen. There are opportunities to dialogue with other parishioners in a variety of faith sharing and bible study groups. Parish leadership groups like the School Board and Parish Council were mentioned as places to be heard. Generally, people felt it important to find ways to connect as community.
Listening is considered by our groups to be one of the best means of learning about others. The importance of being present to others and meeting them where they are was discussed. Specific examples were given where participants realized they weren’t truly listening and almost missed a chance to show love to others.
Our Participants did not know of a means in the Church to express divergences of vision and differences of opinion. There was a great deal of discussion on the topic and there is significant divergence in understanding the goal of listening in this way. Most emphasized the importance of being respectful, and to listen without judgment. Some wondered if discussion would lead to misunderstanding within the Church on what the Church teaches. There seems to be a broad spectrum ranging from those who would like to see growth and change and those who believe that Church teaching and practice should be ‘uncompromising.’
Participants discussed specific example of voices that are not heard. There was concern about the need to have dialogue with both young people and with senior citizens. Listening to people who have left the Church was mentioned by several participants as a crucial means of healing division. While those conversations could be difficult criticism can be a way to ‘see the plank in our own eye.’ Several participants were empathetic with frequent conversation that the Church needs to be more open to both male and female leadership in the Church at all levels.
THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS
- Journey toward unity
- Increasing role and responsibility of the laity
- Struggle over the loss of fellow Catholics
- How to bring others into the journey with us
In our discussion there was a keen awareness of the need to listen to one another, and to understand differences between people. Some felt that a goal of our journey was to become a unified church; and that the Holy Spirit is calling us to this work. Journeying together allows us to be help to one another, and to encourage each other in our faith.
We are called increasingly to be support to the clergy, and one example is taking responsibility for invitation to join the journey. Some mentioned that some ‘how to’ instruction would help us with reaching out to invite people back as well as inviting new companions on the journey. Participants appreciate success stories and would like to have a means for sharing more.
Several participants felt we are not journeying well together. There is concern that fractures exist in the Church. Societal divisions that hold us apart and judging others when we don’t understand them can cause this fracture. Within the parish we might struggle to find connections outside the circles of people we know.
We thought about people who were ‘further apart’ and who need our compassion and attention:
- those who are critical of Catholics because they do not understand the teachings;
- those who have same-sex attraction and gender issues;
- those who have no active faith practices;
- young people who have not been evangelized;
- the elderly;
- those with handicapped children who no longer come to Mass;
- and divorced people who feel ostracized.
There was discussion of ways we can work to journey well with others. One is to be more loving and caring to everyone whether they are active Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, Protestant, non-Christian, or “Nones.” We need to be compassionate to others – to listen, serve, and be empathetic. Taking our relationship with God and living it in our daily lives as we encounter people will allow us to project Christ to others. Creating community – in parish groups, in school families, and in prayer groups helps us to find common ground. We need to stop focusing on our differences and embrace our commonality: Jesus.
There was further discussion on ways to journey well together. There was again a desire for clarity on Church teaching, and an overall need for education for adults. Several mentioned wanting to experience the journey in a small group setting in addition to daily parish life. While some were unsure of the purpose of the Synod at first there was much appreciation for the opportunity to have dialogue with each other.