Put Out into the Deep

Synodality’s Challenge: Become Open To New Ideas, Ways of Doing Things

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We come together today to initiate the Synodal process in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. The concept of Synod is nothing new to the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the first council, the Council of Jerusalem, where the people came together to discern the question of how new non-Jewish Christians should be initiated into the Church.

Pope Francis carries his pastoral staff as he leaves the concluding Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 27, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In the process of ecumenical councils, local councils and Synods in the Church have always been the preferred method. This process is a method of obtaining consensus, of listening to all who have a stake in the life of the Church, especially those who seem to live at its margins.

The Second Vatican Council restored to the Church the Synodal process where the Council representative bishops of the Church are gathered together in a periodic Synod to address questions facing the mission of the Church. The Synod and mission are clearly connected as those who gather come together to decide how to continue the mission of the Church. What changes need to be made to make the mission effective? We will begin this journey together today in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The Synod will continue on to the national level and then the worldwide Synod in 2023.

Our first step is journeying, walking together, listening together, especially to those with whom we walk. Listening is particularly hard. Speaking comes very easily. We want to speak our minds. We want to make a difference. We are convinced of certain things. Listening to the ideas of others, however, is a complex and difficult process. In my social work training, there was one basic rule that we were given, which was to listen.

At times, the rule was, suffer the silences because sometimes people do not express themselves quickly or completely. Sometimes they look to another person for a clue that what they say is truly important and is wanted to be heard. We must learn to listen better before we speak.

The Synodal process says that we must celebrate together. We must celebrate that we recognize each other as companions on the journey and that what each one has to say is important, making us co-responsible in the mission of the Church. All the baptized are challenged to bring the Gospel to the world. The Good News is that Jesus Christ gave His life for the world, died, and is risen from the dead. This is the core of our preaching and teaching, and each and every Christian has this responsibility.

From the Second Vatican Council, we also understood that the Church is surely and clearly a hierarchical entity, but that the authority in the Church must be exercised as one of service, devoid of any type of clericalism. And so, the pyramidic structure that some envisioned the Church to be before the Second Vatican Council no longer really describes the Church.

Rather, the Church is a circle within which all have co-responsibility for the mission of preaching the Gospel. The Second Vatican Council also taught us that this circle is not just those who are members of the Catholic Church. Rather, that circle includes those members of the society in which we live, other Christian bodies, and other religious confessions. Yes, the Church is in the world, speaks to the world, and serves the world.

How important it is that we understand that the Synodal process is a participatory moment so that we can make all members of the Church co-responsible for its mission.

Most importantly, the Synodal process and style focuses on decisions that must be made through discernment based on a consensus model that flows from the common obedience to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What procedures and methods we use to discern together help us make decisions. It is never a parliamentary system in the Church where some have a greater vote than others or that votes are counted, and the majority wins.

Decision-making is always within the hierarchical structure of the Church, where the hierarchy has a great responsibility for teaching what our faith is; however, teaching also demands listening to those who respond to the preached Word of God. This is perhaps a new method that we must learn for coming to important decisions regarding the life of the Church.

And so, how will we accomplish this challenge given to us by our Holy Father, whose thinking is clearly manifested in the Synodal process? Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, by what he says and does, is committed to the concept that unity prevails over conflict, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He believes in reaching out into the peripheries, those left out in most societies and sometimes even in the Church.

The challenge before us is that spiritually we must undergo a conversion so that we recognize that our mission responsibility as Catholic Christians is something that we cannot fulfill without a connection to our sisters and brothers in the faith. Following the will of God is not something that we can do alone. We must listen to each other, and engage in dialogue, so that we can understand better and more completely what God demands of us at a particular time. Each session will begin with the Eucharist or a meaningful prayer service.

Bishop Robert Brennan, who will be installed as the Eighth Bishop of Brooklyn on November 30, 2021, will go to each of the 22 deaneries to meet with the priests of the deanery. Mass or a meaningful prayer service will be held with those people who have been working in the parishes of that deanery, followed by a meeting so that Bishop Brennan can hear the results of their consultations directly.

In this post-COVID era, the Church has a great responsibility to recognize the world crisis that has yet to end, and how we must respond as a Universal Church to confronting the future of the world in which globalization has made us the neighbors of all people. We no longer live in splendid isolation.

Yes, we are interconnected in so many ways, certainly economically, but also in dependence of one another for goods and services, and for the labor that moves freely around the world today. We are challenged in the process of Synodality to become open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. This coincides with the New Evangelization proclaimed by St. John Paul II at the beginning of this Millennium.

Now, as we celebrate just more than 50 years of the ending of the Second Vatican Council, we journey together, putting out into the deep, to God’s Kingdom in a world that needs our witness to the Gospel more than ever.