When I first learned that Pope Francis wanted to convoke a Synod on Synodality, I wondered how that would fit with what God the Father had been leading me toward in prayer. As I prayed about it more and spoke with others, it became clear that our efforts in the archdiocese to promote intentional discipleship and reorient everything toward mission would not be hindered but accelerated by the synod process.
For some reading this column, this might be the first time you have heard the term “synod” and you’re wondering what it is. Synods are gatherings of the Church to decide how to respond to questions that have arisen about the preservation and growth of the faith or matters of local discipline. Synods can happen at the diocesan level or the universal level, and when it is the latter, it always involves the gathering of the Synod of Bishops, whose members are selected from the various regions of the world.
The Synod that Pope Francis launched at the beginning of October involves both levels. It begins with a diocesan phase and then moves on to a gathering of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2023 at the Vatican. Ordinarily, a diocesan synod lasts two to three years, but this time it is condensed into six months.
In terms of overall themes, the Holy Father has used three different verbs to describe this synod: Encounter, Listening and Discernment. “Synodality,” he explains, “represents the path by which the Church can be renewed by the action of the Holy Spirit, listening together to what God has to say to his people.”
In the Archdiocese of Denver, we are taking this opportunity to focus on answering the question: How is God calling us out of maintenance and into mission? In order to truly listen to the Holy Spirit during both the parish and archdiocesan-wide discernment gatherings in early 2022, we know that we will need to first have clarity on why the Church exists and what the mission of Jesus is — we need to know the story. More straightforwardly, we need to “re-acquire a biblical worldview.” That is why, from Christ the King through Christmas, the whole Archdiocese of Denver is “going on retreat” together.
This retreat will be delivered over five Sunday homilies, launching on the Feast of Christ the King and then through unpacking the Gospel over the four Sundays of Advent. After this, we will spend time listening to what God wants to say to us, trusting that he is the best architect for his kingdom, the best mission planner for the battle to win souls.
Once we have completed the process of encounter, listening and discerning with God in the parishes, we will focus on further preparation and formation of the parish representatives, and then finally, we will hold an archdiocesan-wide gathering. The fruits of this discernment process will be summarized in a document that is sent to U.S. Bishops’ Conference for inclusion in its report to the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome.
This approach will allow us to contribute to the Church’s global synod, but crucially, it will also have a local impact that we hope will continue throughout the archdiocese long after the synod is done.
It’s worth reminding everyone that we are at a point in the United States where the ambient culture is no longer Christian. In fact, many people think they know Catholicism already and have rejected it. This new cultural situation requires us to listen to the Holy Spirit for his inspiration, so that we are equipped to live and share the Gospel that gives our lives purpose and meaning. We know our identity because God makes us his sons and daughters. He has rescued us through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, and now he is calling us to live out our part in the story of him saving the world. We are invited to share in the mission of Jesus in our own day.
Let us pray with the blind man Bartimaeus, “Lord, I want to see,” so that our hearts and minds are opened to how God is calling us to follow him as individuals, as parishes, as an archdiocese and as a Church.
To learn more about the Synod in the Archdiocese of Denver, visit synod.archden.org.