Information regarding the Synodal Questions and a Letter from Bishop McGuckian are available on this page and via the various links.
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It happened ‘on the road’
My Dear Friends,
It was very timely that the Gospel on the day we launched the Synod in our diocese was the story of James and John asking Jesus to give them places of honour in the Kingdom. St Mark had made it very clear that the disciples were ‘on the road’ to Jerusalem with Jesus when the encounter took place. We Christians listening to this Gospel are meant to recognise this thing of ‘being on the road’ with Jesus. That’s because the Christian life is always ‘on the road’ with Jesus. When Mark tells us that two of the main followers of Jesus were so ‘out of it’, so full of their own agenda that they made such a request of Jesus on the way to his passion we are meant to reflect on ourselves. Might it be that we are so full of ourselves that our turning to the Lord is always about ‘me’; what’s in it for me? That sobering thought and Jesus’ reply to the two brothers – ‘will you drink the cup that I must drink?’ – might well help us as we think about the Synod
Pope Francis has called a Synod of Bishops which will come together in two years’ time in 2023. Synod means ‘on the road together’.
The reason there is such a long lead in time is that the Pope wants the whole Church to be involved in it. Over the next two years he wants us to practise being ‘Synodal’, walking together and praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we will hear what God is saying to us now in these days.
The Pope uses three words when he talks about this Synod and they are: Communion, Participation, Mission. It is more powerful if we take them in reverse order.
It can sometimes feel as if the purpose of the Church is merely to help us mark the key moments of our lives; birth, marriage and death, and to help us say our prayers along the way. We need to be reminded that Christ founded the Church for a deeper Mission, to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to announce salvation for the whole world. The Mission is for everybody, not just priests and deacons and Religious sisters and brothers, those whom we used to think of as the professional religious people.
As we talk to one another and listen to each other over the next two years the Pope wants the Holy Spirit to call out the missionary in each one of us.
It is one thing to say that God calls every one of the baptised to be a part of the Mission. But the question arises: how is everyone to participate? How can ever more people be involved in spreading the Gospel? It will be the big challenge of the coming years for the Church to create a new culture with opportunities for everyone to make their commitment and get involved in the Mission. There are two sides to this:
1. We need to find ways for people to be trained and skilled to make a more lively contribution to the Church’s work of evangelisation.
2. People have to be helped to find the energy and generosity to come forward and make their contribution.
When we understand that we have a common mission given to us by Christ and when each one of us is making his or her contribution then we are in Communion with Christ and with each other.
The Pope has a sense that we as Church are called to renewal for mission in the world of today. He wants the Church to rediscover the treasure of communion in order to be a light for a world that is so lacking in communion. Part of the background is that while there is greater ease of communication in our world today than ever before in history at the same time communities are breaking down. There are dangerous signs of division, politically and socially. Young people and older people seem to have less and less in common. When people divide over politics or ideology it is increasingly acceptable for them to refer to each other with aggressive and demeaning language. Even in the Church liberals and conservatives all too often view each other with suspicion and tend to keep their distance. In a world beset with division and rancour the Church of Jesus is called to be a sign of unity, a witness to what God wants for the world. To seek communion is, then, a Gospel duty.
The first part is the Diocesan Phase of this journey
The specific task for the next few months is to get a Snapshot of how things are now: how are we doing already, now, as regards Mission, Participation and Communion? Then, can we dream the dream about how we could do these things better in the future?
In our diocese we have prepared three pairs of questions which people will be invited to respond to in the coming weeks. There will be opportunities for people to respond either in groups or online.
Early in the New Year we will gather together a synopsis of the responses from our diocese, which I will bring in the form of a report to the Bishops Conference. Then, an Irish report will be created from all of the diocesan reports. Subsequently there will be a ‘continental’ stage and finally the Pope’s collaborators in Rome will gather together the wisdom and perspectives of the Churches of the whole world. That will guide the agenda of the Synod of Bishops which will gather in 2023. I invite you to see it as an opportunity to contribute to the Pope’s ongoing work of renewal of the Church.
Remember we don’t have to wait until 2023 to work on Mission, Participation and Communion. Over Covid, based on an initiative of the Council of Priests, I have had a group made up of priests and lay people working on a Pastoral Plan for our own diocese which we will be rolling out in the New Year.
Please take part in the consultations now before Christmas and let us pray and work together here in Raphoe for a new commitment to being Missionaries, for generous participation from all of us and a deepening experience of being in Communion with Jesus and with each other.
Back to James and John
Every time you hear the word Synod, I invite you to have in your mind the picture of the disciples ‘on the road with Jesus’, heading for Jerusalem. We can remember the two followers, James and John, who were full of their own agenda and who needed Jesus to call them back to the core of the Christian life. Like them, as we walk the road with Jesus, we will be asked to drink the cup with him and to be free of our own biases. Then, we trust that he will lead us through the loss of the crucifixion into the glory of his resurrection.
A key part of the Church’s ‘synodal pathway’ in our day has to be all of us letting go of our own agenda so that we can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to and guiding us into the future.
+ Alan McGuckian, SJ
Bishop of Raphoe
More Information on the Synod can be accessed here
Prayer for the Synod
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go
and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path
nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life
and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right.
All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son,
forever and ever. Amen