One of Jesus’s highest priorities while ministering in the flesh was to restore people on the margins to their rightful place in the community.
Tax-collectors, foreigners, lepers, widows, orphans, the chronically ill and those unable to provide for themselves all found healing and wholeness in His undistracted gaze.
That became the model for the Church’s ancient practice of holding synods.
In a prayerful assembly, people who aren’t used to being listened to are invited to share what’s on their mind and their heart.
The Church and its leaders then rely on the Holy Spirit to help discern an appropriate response.
This is what’s known as the Synodal Path.
“Synod” comes from the Greek word for gathering.
It’s an ancient term and practice for the Church, which Church leaders are encouraging all Catholics to rediscover.
The pope is calling on Church leaders and active Catholics in dioceses throughout the world, along with people who have frayed or tenuous ties to the Church, to dialogue and discern in preparation for the next Synod of Bishops.
“For many of us, the synodal path presents a very different way of seeing and doing things,” said Helen Osman, diocesan communications director for the Jefferson City diocese.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight recently appointed Mrs. Osman to chair the commission for the diocesan phase of the 2023 Synod of Bishops.
The commission will organize listening sessions, surveys and other ways of gathering information to be sent to the Vatican in preparation for the Synod.
Mrs. Osman is convinced the synodal process will be about much more than holding meetings and taking minutes.
“The Holy Father is challenging us to think about this Synodal Path as a way of being Church,” she said.
It’s less about the final product and “more about the experience of coming together and listening to one another,” said Mrs. Osman.
It will be hard but holy work, she said.
What God wants
All are invited to the opening Mass for the diocesan phase of the synod at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.
In addition, a Holy Hour will be prayed for the synod’s success at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17, in the Cathedral.
In reading the preparatory documents for the diocesan phase of the synod, Mrs. Osman has noted frequent use of the words “communion,” “participation” and “mission.”
“The vademecum, or official handbook for the diocesan phase, states, ‘Authentic discernment is made possible where there is time for deep reflection and a spirit of mutual trust, common faith and a shared purpose,’” she noted.
“What I think that means is that we are ‘better together,’” she said. “We need to recognize our common mission, God’s desire for us to be in communion with one another, and that this will only happen if we have full participation.”
Mrs. Osman sees distinct parallels between what the synod documents envision for the diocesan phase and what this diocese has already been working on through the past three years of pastoral planning.
“I see that as strong affirmation for what we’ve been doing and are still doing as we discern together as a community, in keeping with Church teaching,” she said.
Mrs. Osman said one of the objectives of the diocesan phase of the synod process is to recognize significant gaps or shortcomings in how the Church ministers to people.
“That presents us with the challenge of trying to hear from people who are nominally Catholic, those who don’t always come to Mass, or maybe those who do come every week but feel invisible or unheard,” she said.
“And those who have been hurt by the Church or maybe don’t see themselves as connected in any way to the Church,” she added.
More to come
Other members of the diocesan pre-synodal commission include: Deacon Enrique Castro, executive director of the diocesan Faith Formation Department; Father Jason T. Doke STL, moderator of the curia; LeAnn Korsmeyer, diocesan director of Parish and Charitable Services; Benjamin Roodhouse JD JCL, diocesan director of Canonical Services; and Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND, the bishop’s delegate for religious.
Over the next few months, the diocesan commission will be gathering information and insight for the synod.
The commission will prepare a report to send to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops next spring.
The U.S. bishops will review the reports from all U.S. dioceses, which will prepare them to take part in the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome.
The synod’s organizers hope the outcome will go well beyond any official proclamations.
“Yes, there will be a final document,” Mrs. Osman stated, “but Pope Francis has also spoken repeatedly of a ‘dynamic outcome’ of the synodal process.
“He is asking us to recommit ourselves to our faith, which can be described as a group of people journeying together,” she said.
“And to ‘journey together,’ we have to let the Spirit educate and guide us, to have the courage and freedom of heart to continue our conversion,” she said.
Search “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” online to read one of the main preparatory documents for the 2023 Synod of Bishops.