Hundreds of people will gather at the Cousins Center June 6-7, but those responsible for bringing them together want the Catholic community to know what the gathering is not.

“One misconception people have about the Archdiocesan Synod is that it’s one big meeting,” said Lydia LoCoco, director of the Nazareth Project at the John Paul II center. “It’s nothing of the sort. It’s a process of discernment and a listening to the Holy Spirit.”

Rich Harter, director of the archdiocese’s office of evangelization, termed  it “the gathering of the faithful, called together by God, to pray and discern in light of the (Holy) Spirit’s movement in our hearts within all of us.
… All the processes we use  throughout the synod are designed to open us to the movement of the Holy Spirit both in ourselves and in each other.”

Prayerful process

That process, which has involved getting parish pastoral leaders and synod facilitators and delegates spiritually ready for the synod, has been the focus of work undertaken by LoCoco, Harter, Bishop Donald J. Hying, and Barbara Anne Cusack, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It began in early January with six weekly emails focusing on participants’ spiritual discernment and preparation for the synod. During Lent, the emails will focus upon the day’s Scriptures, and will follow a listen-discern-respond format developed by Bishop Hying. During Holy Week, he will do a video blog highlighting the Triduum. The weekly emails resume for six weeks beginning April 21. The formation will conclude with a novena, May 29-June 6.

The bishop hopes formation, while designed for those who will be part of the synod event, will have an impact on the rest of the faithful, too.

“We’re hoping this Lent becomes a time of renewal for the whole archdiocese and we need to be doing more to promote that on the parish level,” he said of the need for priests, deacons and lay leaders to “animate” their congregations. “It’s not just the spiritual preparation of the delegates, but the spiritual preparation of the whole archdiocese. We’re all moving toward that same focus of prayer in relation to the synod and its outcome.”

Harter said a number of parish leaders asked if they could use the spiritual preparation materials with their parishioners.

“We say, ‘Absolutely yes,’ because that’s the broader sense of spiritual preparation, because what we really hope is that everyone makes it a point to pray for the blessing of the Holy Spirit – the movement of the Holy Spirit – and to pray for the participants of the synod itself,” he said.

LoCoco said the entire Catholic community is being asked to pray for the synod.

“For the average Catholic in the pew, we want to ask them to specifically and intentionally offer prayer and sacrifice as part of their Lenten observances for the synod,” she said. “They might not be a facilitator or delegate, they might not be coming to the synod, but they can participate in a real, tangible way by praying in unison with the whole 10-county archdiocesan faithful.”

Significant call, commitment

The amount of spiritual preparation expected of synod participants is by design, according to Harter. He likened it to marathon training.

“If you’re going to run a marathon, you just don’t show up on that day and run 26.2 miles and fare very well. You train,” he said. “It’s the same in the spiritual life. There’s a moment in time, whether in our personal lives or in the life of the church, we need to be spiritually ready. Best way to be ready is to prepare.”

A key component in that preparation, which Harter described as “an axis” in the midst of the formation, is a retreat for facilitators and delegates on April 5.

“We’re going even deeper,” he said, noting the retreat will help them understand their calling in light of “the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the sending of the disciples.”

Guided by the Holy Spirit

Prayer and discernment, according the Harter, are “two foundational movements or energies of the synod.”
“The whole synod event, by definition, is a Spirit-led event whereby people gather in a spirit of prayer and openness to discern where the Spirit is calling the church of Milwaukee to move in terms of top priorities for the next 10 to 15 years,” he said.

LoCoco noted the need to “be open and to discern.”

“(Those at the synod) are going to meet in prayer and the Holy Spirit is going to be there because Jesus Christ promised his Spirit to the church,” she said. “Literally, we are Christians praying together – where two or three are gathered – the Holy Spirit will be there, and we’re going to be guided, in a sense, to a destination we don’t know today.”

Bishop Hying said the discernment process – observance, judgment and action – is not limited to the synod, but includes everyday life.

“If we all did that from a spiritual perspective, to contemplate what’s happening in my life, what are my experiences, joys, sufferings, struggles, problems, opportunities – what’s God speaking to me through all of that, and what’s he inviting me to do in response – that whole response is what the synod is,” he said. “But all of us are called to do that in our daily lives. That’s part of the spirituality of the synod as well, that the Holy Spirit truly does speak when members of the church gather in prayer and talk with each other. The Holy Spirit speaks in the wisdom of the group.”