It is ironic that Pope Francis has called for a Synod on the concept of Synod; In other words, “synodality,” which means “walking together.” Pope Francis wants to illicit the input of all segments of the Catholic community, calling upon the Church leadership to listen to those who may not have a voice. We will celebrate and begin our discernment in union with our Chief Shepherd Francis, for the Holy Father’s Synod on Synodality at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, at the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist.
I say it’s ironic because this is not the first time that designs for the good of our local Church has coincided with designs for the Church Universal. Remember, we instituted the Order of Catechists here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee two years before the Pope announced the institution of the Order of Catechist for the Universal Church.
On Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center, we will celebrate a commemoration of our 2014 Synod. Although the Pope will be reflecting on what a synod means, we will be able to take our experience and offer our insights to those that will be collected from archdioceses and dioceses throughout the world.
Therefore, it is important to reflect on the reasons we embarked on our Archdiocesan Synod gathering. We were in the midst of our bankruptcy, and it was important to affirm that, as a Church, we were dedicated to carrying out the mandate given to us by Jesus. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)
As a community of believers, it was important for us to understand that we are members of the Church instituted by Jesus Christ to lead us to salvation. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we often forget the gift of the Church. Therefore, as believers, we set out to examine this Church through extensive group discussions reflecting on a Pastoral Letter written for this occasion, “Who do you say that I am?” Participants in various areas of our archdiocese entered into discussions focusing on the nature of the Church.
The discussions revealed the love many have for the Church, and it started with a reflection on the Pastoral Letter. It is Jesus who asks this question of his disciples, and it is a question that all of us must ponder in our hearts and continually challenge ourselves to respond to with an answer that is exemplified in the way we live our lives. Answering that question, our lives can no longer remain the same. Especially if our answer echoes that of St. Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” We must respond to this Jesus Christ, the Messiah who is the perfect revelation of the Father. “Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
In the Pastoral Letter, we examined the nature of the Church, His Church. It begins with “Mystery.” This mystery is an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord. To meditate on a mystery is to enter into ever-deepening realms of meaning. It is not a puzzle to be solved, but a deeper truth into which one may enter by way of silence, contemplation and humility. It is Christ whom we encounter in the Church, and it is with him, through the Church, that we are challenged to live our faith and communicate it as an experience of grace and joy. A favorite saying of mine from the Pastoral Letter is, “Without His Church, there is no Christ.”
The Church is also a sacrament, which is a sacred sign instituted by Christ to give grace. All of our seven sacraments are celebrated by the Church. The Church makes manifest the presence of Jesus Christ, who brings forth the presence of God and it is for this reason that Church is not only an institution but also both a mystery and sacrament.
The Church is also seen as Communion. This mystery of ecclesial communion finds its most profound expression in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is here that Jesus invites us to receive him into our lives, to be in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters. St. John Paul reminds us that the Church is called during her earthly pilgrimage to maintain and promote communion with the Triune God and communion among the faithful. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 34) Many truly missed the Eucharist during the pandemic and longed for this treasured sacrament of communion.
In the Synod of 2014, we formed our priorities as a Church, knowing that we possessed an identity which reflected mystery, sacrament and communion in our very nature. Although we would be envisioning concrete and material priorities through a discussion of parish representatives, they were grounded in the spiritual understanding of the Church, which meant that our actions were carrying out the mandate given by Jesus to us, his disciples.
After the Synod, we employed a group of committed members of our archdiocese to implement the Synod priorities. During our commemoration of the 2014 Synod, Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison will offer his reflections on the Synod and its works and the effectiveness. Bishop Hying was a participant in the 2014 Synod. I, as Archbishop of Milwaukee, will offer a presentation on the embodiment of the priorities established by our representatives, the work of collaboration with parishes and institutions that has been achieved and our vision for the future, especially the next three years until I offer my letter of resignation to Pope Francis and await the appointment of the 12th Archbishop of Milwaukee.
I believe we will have much to share with Pope Francis and his work on “synodality” from our experience as a local church. Together, we have “walked together” (synodality) these past seven years and have learned from our successes and our failures.
We always need to remind ourselves of the gift of the Church instituted by Jesus Christ, embodied in mystery, sacrament and communion, as we articulate our vision for the future, trusting that Jesus is with us always.