In May, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, announced that a Synod of Bishops will gather in 2023 to focus on the nature of the Church’s synodal calling. As a prelude to this event, the Holy Father has invited all dioceses of the world to enter into a synodal process beginning on October 17, 2021.
Now, the word “synodality” is not one we typically use in everyday speech. It pertains to decision-making in the Church, but it’s more than that. As Pope Francis has made clear, synodality refers to our “way of being Church.” Drawing on ancient roots reclaimed by the Church at the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father describes synodality in spiritual terms. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, we are the “people of God,” all of whom are called to holiness and all of whom are challenged – in the words of Matthew’s Gospel – to “go make disciples.”
I welcome this invitation for three reasons. First, it provides an opportunity to revisit and reenergize several mission priorities that emerged out of our 2017 Synod. Like so many other aspects of our lives, the dynamic pursuit of these priorities was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is not yet ended, this experience provides a new lens through which to reexamine the wisdom that emerged out of our 2017 Synod. We do not intend to replicate the same process from Synod ’17 but intend to build upon that historic synod.
Second, Pope Francis has made it clear that synodality isn’t an end itself. Synodalilty – again, our way of being Church – is for a purpose. We come together as the people of God to share our wisdom so that we can advance the Church’s mission in the world.
At a personal level, this aligns well with my episcopal motto: Iesum Dominum Praedicamus, which is drawn from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” It aligns, too, with a message shared by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Papal Nuncio to the United States, on the occasion of my ordination as your bishop: “The Holy Father wants a missionary Church, and His Holiness is counting on you to lead the people of the Diocese of Gary to be both disciples and missionaries.” As you can imagine, I take these words very seriously! It now animates my calling as your bishop.
Third, this new experience of synodality should enable us to examine – perhaps at a deeper level – the very nature of missionary discipleship. We are fortunate that our Sunday Gospel readings in the coming liturgical year will be drawn from Luke’s Gospel, the “Gospel of hospitality.” Luke’s Gospel, together with its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, feature the work of the Holy Spirit most explicitly. As we shall see, many lessons can be drawn from Luke as we seek to fulfill our missionary mandate. We will be very blessed, indeed, to journey with Luke as the coming year unfolds.
I very much look forward to journeying with you as we respond together to Pope Francis’ invitation into a new experience of communion, participation, and mission. Stay tuned! More to follow!
The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary