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Led by the Spirit: An Intro to the Diocesan Phase of the Synod on Synodality

In March 2020, the Vatican announced that the next Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023, would be a Synod on Synodality with a focus on three concepts: communion, participation, and mission.  The word “Synod” refers to a gathering of bishops from across the world to discuss matters that pertain to the life and mission of the Church at a universal level, or to a diocesan synod, which refers to a gathering within the local Church to discuss the life and mission of a diocese. “Synodality” is a more recent term, which, for Pope Francis, captures a way of life for the Church whereby we journey toward Christ together, listening to one another and, most importantly, to the Holy Spirit. 

The best biblical image for synodality is probably the story of the Road to Emmaus. After the events of Easter Sunday, reports were already beginning to emerge that women had visited the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed and saw there was no body there. Meanwhile, we read that two disciples are journeying together, away from Jerusalem. Jesus comes alongside them and first, listens to what they were discussing as they journey along. Then, having listened, he unpacks for them the story of salvation history, opening the Scriptures so they can clearly see how it prefigures and foretells the Messiah’s Passion. When they arrive at Emmaus, he joins the disciples for dinner and their eyes are opened when they recognize him at the Breaking of the Bread. They are so amazed by this encounter with the Risen Lord that they rush back to Jerusalem, a seven-mile run, to tell the other disciples and apostles what they had seen.

In May of this year, the Vatican announced that the Synod on Synodality would begin with a diocesan phase, to engage the local Church in an experience of synodality as a form of preparation for the Synod of Bishops. In the preparatory documents for this diocesan phase, there were certain recommended gatherings and guiding questions but also a lot of encouragement for local ordinaries to decide the most fruitful process for designing the experience of synodality in their dioceses.

The above context of the Road to Emmaus inspired the approach to our Archdiocesan Discernment Process in the Archdiocese of Denver, a process which launched on October 17 with a liturgy at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and which will culminate with a Archdiocesan Discernment Event on March 25-27, 2022. 

This process will be a moment of deepening conversion for our archdiocese in faithfulness to the life, mission, and teachings that Jesus Christ has gifted to his bride, the Church. For much of his time leading the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Aquila has had a focus on setting us up for a new apostolic age, making disciples, and moving even more profoundly to a missionary stance. This Archdiocesan Discernment Process is a tremendous opportunity for all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver to join together in listening to the Holy Spirit for how we are being called to go even deeper in that mission. 

How is the Lord calling our archdiocese to fulfill its mission, “so that all might be rescued and have abundant life, for the glory of the Father?” What is the critical role that our parishes play in that mission? What essential part of that mission has been given to each of us to play as individual disciples? Surely, God wants to answer each of these questions for us as an archdiocese, if we but listen. 

First, however, in order to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for how we should fulfill the mission of the Church, we first have to be clear about what that mission actually is. 

The Descent of the Holy Ghost, Titian, ca. 1545.

Why does the Church exist? Why do we have an archdiocese at all? The answer comes to us in the form of a story, a proclamation, called the kerygma, which is, “the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith,” (Catechesi Tradendae 25). This story answers the fundamental questions every honest human mind and heart wrestles with at some point: why is there something instead of nothing? Why is everything so obviously messed up? What, if anything, has God done about it? And, finally, if he has, in fact, done something about it, how should I respond?

At the heart of discipleship is seeing reality as it really is through the true story of God’s love for us, not through the world’s narrative of division and self-centered attempts to find fulfillment. Through the Archdiocesan Discernment Process, all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver will be called to regain clarity about our mission as a Church by discovering our place in the great narrative of salvation history. To accomplish this, the faithful are invited to join in the upcoming Archdiocesan Retreat, which is primarily taking the form of five independent but interlinked homilies to be given by your pastor during each Sunday Mass beginning on the Feast of Christ the King and going through Advent. These homilies and related reflection questions are intended to open our ears and hearts to the Holy Spirit, as Christ did on the Road to Emmaus, so that we might see and hear clearly and encounter him anew.

After we have clarity on the mission as an archdiocese, we can then begin to turn toward listening. The mission and teachings of the Church are perennial; they are unchanging. How, though, do we best accomplish that mission today? Better than our own plans or best ideas, we have to listen to and discern God’s voice, allowing him to be the “architect” in our archdiocese, building according to his plan and pattern, surrendering each step of the way to the Holy Spirit, who is the principal agent of all renewal. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build” (Psalm 127:1). 

This attentiveness to the voice of God will be the goal of our Parish Discernment Gatherings, which will be hosted in each parish from January 24 – February 18. There will be in-person gatherings at parishes who choose to host them, as well as a digital tool for prayer, listening to the Holy Spirit, and submitting reflections based on one’s prayer that will be available to all who wish to use it. Scribes at each in-person gathering will capture the results of their conversation and submit feedback to the Archdiocesan Discernment Process Team, a representative group comprised of laity and clergy. 

Finally, the climax of the Archdiocesan Discernment Process will be a three-day event, beginning on the Feast of the Annunciation, where two representatives from each parish, chosen by their pastors, and other at-large members, will attend an Archdiocesan Discernment Event. This will be an opportunity for prayer, formation, and going even deeper into questions surrounding what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church here in Denver. These representatives will be prepared for this event in a two-day gathering toward the end of January. Following this event, the fruits of our archdiocesan-wide listening process will be synthesized into a document to be sent to the Vatican and communicated here locally. 

What will come of this Archdiocesan Discernment Process? The faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver will have clarity on the mission of Jesus Christ and an opportunity to respond to him in a new way. Thousands of faithful will also spend time in prayer before the Eucharist, opening their hearts to a God who surely has much to say to his people and the world right now. It is a deeply worthwhile, and potentially transformative, exercise for our entire archdiocese to open ourselves to a God who wants to speak to us.

In a special way, this process is being consecrated to and put under the mantle and protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that she may protect this process, inspire our local Church, and bring us all to her son. Please keep all of this, and the universal Church, in your prayers as well and make sure to get involved at your parish. 

If you would like to get involved with our Archdiocesan Discernment Process as part of the Synod on Synodality, please contact your parish office for more details. Also, to stay informed throughout the process, be sure to visit synod.archden.org for the latest information.

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