Columns From Bishop Brennan

Bishop Brennan to Priests: What Is More Important, the Synod Process or Its Results?

Editor’s note: Three hundred parish priests from all over the world, including five American priests, will be heading to Rome later this month to take part in the ongoing Synod on Synodality, to share their experiences of parish life. 

The Synod’s progress along with its relationship to parish life and diocesan planning were major themes of Bishop Brennan’s homily to priests at this year’s chrism Mass at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph on Tuesday, March 26.

Today for sure is a joyous day. A joyous day when we celebrate our identity, who we are as a people of God. The source of our unity, the source of our joy. We celebrate the sacramental life of the Church and the ways that God is working in our midst, especially here in Brooklyn and Queens. Thank you for your presence here today. Gracias a todos, merci beaucoup. 

We are so, so glad to be together. But the joy in our hearts in the festivity of this day — we also feel a twinge of concern and of sadness here in New York City. 

We join together in solidarity with the residents of New York and particularly with our police departments here in New York City, the NYPD, in mourning the loss of Officer Jonathan Diller. We mourn his tragic death, a senseless shooting, the violence that has overtaken his life. And we pray, in a very special way, for his family. This must be a terrible, terrible ordeal for a young family. We think of his sacrifice and the sacrifices that so many men and women make on behalf of our communities, that’s first responders, in the police departments, in the fire departments, in all of the different rescue, protective, and first responders. A tragedy like this reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we must have every single day. 

I am so grateful, by the way, for the presence of the police who are here this day, who make it possible for us to gather on a day like this. We all know it’s not exactly easy to get around and to find parking in Brooklyn, is it? And so, we’re especially grateful for all the assistance that they have given to us. 

At the same time as a nation, too, our eyes are turned toward Baltimore and we pray for those who suffered as result of the collapse of the bridge, and for those who are involved in the search and rescue there as well. 

At a recent meeting of our Diocesan Pastoral Council, we were discussing the experience of the synod right here in Brooklyn and Queens and the ways our conversations at the synod have informed our work and the major themes that they undertook: communication, ongoing faith formation, concern for youth and young adults, and the collaboration of our parishes and the voices of our people in our diocese as we do planning and look at how we respond to the demographic challenges, the number of priests, and the aging condition of our facilities. 

Indeed, we are engaged in much work in this planning with deanery discussions. I have been with a number of priests in the deanery discussions and have a few more to go and I have enjoyed those immensely. It is such a great experience to hear your wisdom on the ground, in these neighborhoods, but it helps me in the responsibilities that I have to undertake when it comes to making decisions and standing behind them. These conversations will expand in the months to come as we try to draw in the voices of our people. 

The question arose at the conversation at the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and I’ll use my words rather than trying to capture them exactly. The question was something along the lines of: “Which is more important, the process or the results?” We are trying to say, people making the connection with synod themes and things that are happening, which is more important? The process, the conversations or the actual results, things happening in response to that? 

My first thought in answering the question was that for Pope Francis it is largely about the process, while on the other hand, the American mindset is very much result oriented. We like to be able to see a problem, solve a problem, get to it as quickly as possible. For the Holy Father, he seems to look upon the experience of the Synod on Synodality less as an event and more as a mindset as the name itself would indicate. He stresses our walking together and listening to one another. 

The answer to the question of course, in typical Catholic fashion, “Which is more important?” The answer is yes, the answer is both; it’s not an either/or question but rather a both/and. Clearly each viewpoint, certainly for the Holy Father, would see the wisdom of the other, we need both, the process and the results. 

When we think about process, when we think about synodality, walking together, and listening to one another, building solidarity, the example that comes to mind is that of families, how we function as families. 

When does a family complete its mission as a family? When do you say as a family, “We are done; we got it settled.” Never, really, never. There are always new needs and challenges, things we have to work out together. 

Sadly, sometimes there are fractures along the way. We let each other down, we need to seek reconciliation. But at our best, families work things out, they work things out together. 

So, when does a family complete its mission? Never, really. As time goes on, through generations, the families grow, new families are formed while remaining the extended family, and we become more and more a family of families. 

Friends, isn’t that the Church at its best, a family of families? You could say that a parish is a family gathering many different families in a neighborhood together in our common faith in the Lord. 

The local Church, the diocese, is a family of parishes and, of course, the universal Church is the family of local Churches. Actually, you know this, the proper term is, “Koinonia,” “Comunio,” communion. What we are at heart is a communion of communions. Indeed, we experience in the Church universal, and boy, oh boy, do we experience it here in Brooklyn and Queens. We experience a great diversity of culture, language, history, and expression. We have different needs. But we are one — we are indeed one, united in our faith in Jesus Christ, in His Gospel, His continued presence in the Church; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:5-6). 

This evening, we celebrate that union, that unity, through the blessing and the distribution of the sacred oils for the sacramental life of the Church. 

We see in the Church in Brooklyn 

Queens constant change — demographic shifts, new peoples coming and going, generational changes, attitudinal changes. We know only one thing, in terms of these things today, you can’t predict what tomorrow will be. But there is one constant isn’t there? 

There is one constant. Jesus Christ, Jesus, the anointed one, Jesus the redeemer, Jesus the Christ who was sent to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind. Jesus who came to be with His flock, to lead, guide, to protect and to nourish. Jesus who gives himself to us in the sacramental life of the Church. 

Jesus the Christ (the anointed one) calls all the baptized into his mission as priest, prophet, and king. He anoints us and sends us forth. Through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist we are all conformed to Him, incorporated into His paschal mystery. As the instruction for the blessing of oils tells us, having died, and been buried with Him and risen with Him, we are sharers in his kingly and prophetic ministry, given the spiritual anointing of the Holy Spirit. 

Yes friends, Jesus walks with us, he listens to us, he engages us. But He is not all talk, is He? He is not all talk and no action. Quite the opposite. Remember how he says, “I have come to light a fire on the earth and how I wish it were ignited.” Indeed, He comes with the power of mercy to lift up, to heal and to give life. In the first reading we hear the words of the prophet that Jesus takes upon himself for Him and His mission: He speaks of comforting those who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give the oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit — yes, Jesus lifts up, heals and gives life. 

He likewise calls us into action, doesn’t he? He calls all of us into action, anointing us for a mission. The oils we will bless this evening mark our unity with one another, our unity with Christ Himself and our unity with His mission. 

Thank you one and all for the vibrancy of this local Church. This is a Church fully alive, fully alive. Thank you for the ways that you work, day in and day out, conformed to Jesus Christ, united with one another, a communion of communions, a family of families. We are strongest, at our best, when we are working together in this fashion, and bringing our various gifts, traditions and devotions. Thank you for your witness: bold, joyful and unapologetic, your witness to Jesus, the anointed one, the redeemer. 

True, we have many practical things to work out — this will always be the case — but we keep our eyes on Christ and the mission to which He calls us. 

Did any of you see the film, “Cabrini”? It was amazing, quite amazing. If you have not yet, I am sure it will be streaming soon. Talk about being anointed and sent as a witness to Christ. We are a big part of her legacy right here in Brooklyn. Imagine that a saint ministered here in our midst. Another came walking among us to visit. A few of them came. We are pretty flush with saints, aren’t we? There is a line from the film that I have been quoting a lot these days. At one point in a tough situation, she says to the sisters, she explains she will be away for a while and she says, “When I’m away, learn to face your fears. Not just to carry on, but to lead and demonstrate you can do all things — all things in Him who strengthens us. Whether I am here or not.” 

We can take this to heart. In the midst of change and uncertainty, in a fright-filled world, in an area that needs a lot of attention, we are made for more than getting by. Not just to carry on, to get by. We are made for more than that. No, we are meant to lead and demonstrate that we can do all things together in Him who strengthens us. 

Again, I thank all of you who are here, the faithful of our diocese, the core and the life of our parishes, our movements in the diocese. I see a number of the pilgrims who have made the Lenten journey these 40 days, so proud that you came out tonight as well. I thank you and I offer words of profound gratitude as well to our consecrated religious women and men. We have inherited SO MUCH from our religious congregations over the generations. Moreso, even today, we are enriched and blessed by the charisms, the witness, prayers, and apostolic works of all of the sisters and brothers ministering here in Brooklyn and Queens. 

I thank our deacons for your dedicated service to our parishes, to our diocese. Thank you for the wisdom you bring, for the sacrifices you make and the work that you do, for your commitment to those who are in need. 

Momentarily, I will invite you priests here present, to renew the priestly promises of ordination, promises to be more united and more closely conformed with Jesus Christ; promises to follow Christ the head and shepherd, not seeking any gain but moved only by zeal for souls. 

This renewal is always a profound moment. But even more powerful than what you will do together here is the way that you will live these promises each and every day, not always in the easiest of circumstances. 

I am so moved, so grateful for your holiness, your humble loving service. You are an example and inspiration to me and at the same time, a blessing to the Church here in Brooklyn and Queens; in fact to the Church universal. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

In June, I look forward to celebrating some of our particular anniversaries. I see Father Ed Brady is here, he will be celebrating 65 years as a priest, as well as Father Robert Harris. I see that we are going to be celebrating Father Diego Villegas, 50 years. And in our 25-year class, we have Father Chris O’Connor and Father Johnson Chanassery, we have Father Joseph D’Aco, Father Peter Mawusi, Father Norbert Katembo, Father Paul Osei-Fosu, Father Juan Ruiz and Father Grzegorz Stasiak. Looking forward, we want to celebrate you in a particular way. 

And I look forward in June to the ordinations of Deacons Luis Marquez, Caetano Moura, Randy Nguyen, and Tobe Offiah. 

Friends, the Church is very much alive in Brooklyn and Queens. It is alive because Christ is alive. He lives and He anoints us and sends us forth.