Mutual listening, Holy Spirit’s presence key to synod

| August 20, 2019 | 0 Comments

When people gather to pray and share with Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens and other archdiocesan leaders at events that begin next month and run through March, they will be part of an unprecedented, two-year effort in the 169-year history of the archdiocese.

Coming together in synodality, what Pope Francis calls “reciprocal listening, in which everyone has something to learn,” and praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each person attending the three-hour events will have a hand in preparing for an archdiocesan synod in 2021 that will help the archbishop establish pastoral priorities for the ensuing five to 10 years.

Everyone is invited, Bishop Cozzens said. “The doors are open at these events, and we want lots of people to come.”

Nine synods have been held in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, seven of them in its earliest years as a diocese under Bishop Thomas Grace — 1861, 1863, 1867, 1873, 1875, 1877 and 1878, archival documents and other records indicate.

Based on medieval church law that encouraged synods be held annually to help local bishops promulgate norms to the presbyterate, each of the seven synods were one-day events held on the last day of the annual clergy retreat. The synods dealt with organizational details, rules and regulations such as establishing deaneries, liturgical procedures, priestly dress, behavior and stipends, according to a history by James Michael Reardon, “The Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Paul.”

An eighth synod was held in 1893 under Archbishop John Ireland. No records of the archbishop’s have been found detailing what happened, but the Catholic newspaper at the time, the Northwestern Chronicle, reported it was convened Aug. 26, said Allison Spies, archives program manager for the archdiocese. During that synod, Msgr. Louis Caillet, then pastor of St. Mary in St. Paul, was appointed vicar general of the diocese, the newspaper reported.

The new Code of Canon Law of 1917 revised and formalized synod rules and reduced the frequency synods were held, Spies said.

A synod held under those rules in 1939 with Archbishop John Murray lasted three days, involved nominations to multiple formal synod roles and committees, and resulted in 137 official decrees, Spies said. But this synod, too, dealt largely with policies and procedures, such as “no member of the clergy shall meddle in political matters” and “no member of the clergy shall accept membership in secular organizations without the consent of the Ordinary,” according to records kept by the archdiocese.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law prompted further changes in how synods are conducted, particularly in encouraging more participation and input by the lay faithful.

So now, 80 years after the last synod in the archdiocese, the upcoming synod will be different than anything that has come before, said Bishop Cozzens, chairman of the 19-member executive team commissioned with determining and executing the logistics of the pre-synod process and the synod itself.

“This is a pastoral synod, more than it’s about legislation,” Bishop Cozzens said.

“Oftentimes, especially in the past, synods were used as a consultative tool to establish legislation in the local Church that needed to happen,” he said. “Since the establishment of other consultative bodies, which came from the Second Vatican Council, there’s been less need of that,” he said, such as the Presbyteral Council and the archdiocese’s Corporate Board.

Archbishop Hebda also noted that the synod will be the first in the archdiocese since the Second Vatican Council.

“It is my hope that our synod will reflect the insights of the Second Vatican Council, particularly concerning the universal call to holiness and role of the lay faithful, and take advantage of the flexibility that is offered to the diocesan bishop by the revised (1983) Code of Canon Law,” the archbishop said.

“I think that our prior synods were hugely important for bringing order to our life together,” he said. “My hope is that this synod will build on that order in a way that re-energizes us and sets us on a common course for moving forward.”

Helping the archbishop discern the pastoral priorities of the archdiocese, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, will be the focus of activity before and during the synod assembly on Pentecost weekend 2021, Bishop Cozzens said.

The pre-synod process will include 20, three-hour, prayer-infused listening events across the archdiocese, and more than a dozen similar events for particular focus groups, such as priests and parish staff, Catholic school principals, youth and college students. In the second year of preparation, people will gather at the parish and deanery levels. Each gathering is designed to help inform the themes chosen for the synod and the archbishop’s discernment as he determines from the synod a pastoral direction for the archdiocese, Bishop Cozzens said.

Archbishop Hebda said pastoral priorities could address such themes as learning about and passing on the faith through Catholic schools, faith formation, communications and youth ministry; the sacraments as moments of encounter with Christ, including liturgy; works of charity and justice and Catholic social teaching; engaging as missionary disciples in the work of evangelization; and living out vocations, such as marriage, family, consecrated life, the diaconate and the priesthood.

Important to the process is deep, mutual listening, the archbishop said, “in a way that helps us to recognize that there are people who have different experiences and outlooks than I might; that there can be people who disagree with me but who still love the Church deeply and pray beautifully; that there are people who need to know what is in my heart and need me to explain why I do what I do.”

Bishop Cozzens said the goal is to bring Christ more deeply into people’s personal lives and into the world. Establishing what that means at this time in the archdiocese will require discerning hearts alert to the call of the Holy Spirit, he said.

“I want to go in (to the prayer and listening events) with the attitude of discernment, which is, ‘of all the things that come forward, where is the Holy Spirit seen most clearly?’” Bishop Cozzens said. “We want to determine where God is leading, where God is speaking, not just which voice is loudest, or which voice has the most emotion behind it. Or even which voice is most prominent or what is said most frequently. That’s all important data. But in and through all that, where is God speaking,” the bishop said.

Questions raised during a prayer and listening event could include where do people see Christ acting in powerful ways in their parish, or in the archdiocese, he said. And what challenges and opportunities exist to cooperate more fully with the grace of God.

“I fully expect the Holy Spirit is going to surprise us,” Bishop Cozzens said. “I learned in my life as a spiritual director that when surprises come up, that’s often the hand of God. I fully expect that will happen in the synod process. There’s going to be things that surprise us, and we’re going to know, ‘well, that’s what God wants.’”

Prayer and listening events in September: Sept. 24, 6-9 p.m., St. Victoria in Victoria; Sept. 28, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Michael in St. Michael.

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