This week’s reflection diverges from our usual style but I hope you will agree that there’s a good reason for this change! Some readers may remember the impact of Vatican Council II, that international meeting of bishops that met in Rome during several sessions from 1962-65. The changes in how the Church understood herself and the practices set in motion by this past Council were far-reaching. Even today, the ripples linger. Pope John XXIII’s convening of Vatican II has been compared to opening the windows of the Church to allow the Spirit to flow in new ways to meet the needs of the times.
Vatican II shaped my generation of young Catholics. Its effects were exhilarating! As I write, our Church is taking another major step in its history. In 2021 Pope Francis announced he was calling a world Synod of Bishops that would first convene in October 2023. Extensive preparation for this assembly included worldwide listening sessions that were conducted in all dioceses and followed by written summaries discussed in seven continental gatherings held in early 2023.
We are now moving toward the next phase of this comprehensive process. A 60-page working document was produced which will guide prayer, reflection and discussion by all the synod participants meeting in Rome in October 2023. The final assembly of the synod will take place in October 2024.
The working document contains three interconnected themes of communion, mission and participation. As reported in the National Catholic Reporter, Vol. 59, No. 20 (July7-20, 2023), this document is unique in its structure. An introductory section that offers a vision for what it means to be a synodal church is followed by a second section with three overarching questions, one for each of the themes.
In case you are wondering, yes, I am finally approaching a reflection after all this background! I encourage all of us to enter into this synodal process with open minds and hearts. We may not be present at the assembly of the synod but we can be present in our hearts. The pope’s vision for our Church is one of listening, an approach that respects all God’s people and thus welcomes in a special way those who have ever felt excluded. We all know personally who some of these folks are. We may ourselves be among them. Let us recommit to accompanying them with an attitude of reverence as we stand together on holy ground.