My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
We are now coming to the conclusion of our fourth diocesan synod, which has spanned most of this calendar year. On Sunday, Jan. 22, we held the Prayer Service for the Opening of the Preliminary Phase of the Diocesan Synod at our Cathedral in Springfield. The Synod Preparatory Commission developed a series of questions inviting people to reflect on the meaning of discipleship in their lives, namely, that being a disciple is to have entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Following our listening session on April 2 in each deanery connected by video conference to hear the needs, desires and opinions of the faithful regarding the proposed synodal topics, the official opening of the fourth diocesan synod took place in the context of the chrism Mass at the Cathedral on Tuesday of Holy Week, April 11.
The first session of the members of the diocesan synod took place on Saturday, May 20, in the Cathedral Atrium. The members of the synod include those specified by canon law, such as the members of the Presbyteral Council, the deans and the leaders of religious communities serving in our diocese, as well as one appointed delegate from each of our 129 parishes, for a total of over 200 synod members. At this first meeting we discussed a working draft of the proposed Synodal Declarations, addressing the question of how we as a diocese could be committed to discipleship and stewardship as a way of life.
During the summer and early autumn, I conducted a number of listening sessions about our synodal topics, during which I consulted with our permanent deacons and their wives, consecrated religious women and men, as well as the priests of our diocese during our Convocation of Priests.
The second session of the members of the Synod took place on Sept. 9, during which a first draft of Synodal Statutes was proposed and discussed along with the Synodal Declarations.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, we held our second listening session in each deanery connected by video conference to receive feedback on the revised Synodal Declarations.
Following the suggestions and modifications made by the members of the synod, as well as those offered by the priests, deacons, consecrated religious and lay Christian faithful through the various consultations over the past several months, I revised the proposed Diocesan Synodal Declarations and Statutes in light of the feedback that I received. In the end there were 12 Synodal Declarations and 172 statutes in the final version of the Synodal Statutes, reflecting the valuable input received in the process of consultation.
Synod members offered amendments to the Synodal Declarations and Synodal Statutes prior to voting on them at the final session of the fourth diocesan synod, which took place on Saturday, Nov. 18, at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Chatham. All of the Synodal Declarations and Synodal Statutes were overwhelmingly approved by the Synod Members, who voted using electronic voting devices.
The Synodal Declarations state the main themes setting the direction of the diocese with regard to discipleship and stewardship for the foreseeable future, which I am projecting to be at least for the next 10 years. The Synodal Statutes cover a greater breadth of the life of the Church in our diocese consistent with the Synodal Declarations. Policies and procedures will fill out the details later. The starting point for the 2017 Fourth Diocesan Synodal Statutes was the 1963 Third Diocesan Synodal Statutes, to provide for continuity in the ecclesial life of our diocese while updating them to reflect changes since the Second Vatican Council and the commitment of this Fourth Diocesan Synod to the discipleship and stewardship way of life. The 12 Synodal Declarations should be seen as progressing organically and cohesively from our diocesan, individual and parochial commitments to discipleship and stewardship.
Declaration 1 articulates a new mission statement for our diocese, stating that “the community of Catholic faithful in this diocese is committed to the discipleship and stewardship way of life” and to implementing the four pillars of discipleship and stewardship.
Declaration 2 calls for all pastoral initiatives to be set in relation to holiness and for our diocese to invite people to a life of discipleship and stewardship.
Declaration 3, from my Second Pastoral Letter, calls for a culture of growth in the Church that starts with inviting people to experience the love of Jesus Christ.
Declaration 4 defines Catholic discipleship for an individual person as a committed approach to living a Christian life within the Catholic Church, having accepted Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior.
Declarations 5 and 6 address formation for discipleship and stewardship for all ages, including the question of the sequence and age for the reception of the sacraments of initiation.
Declaration 7 addresses the issue of scholarships as a way for the entire Christian community to fulfill its responsibility to transmit the faith to the next generations.
Declaration 8, from my First Pastoral Letter, describes the art of celebrating the liturgy properly and adoring the Lord in the Eucharist devoutly as a necessary step to inviting people to the ecclesial experience of discipleship and stewardship.
Declaration 9 is from my planned Third Pastoral Letter, which will be a post-synodal pastoral exhortation, addressing how living as a Christian is a step toward the goal of everlasting happiness in eternal life.
Declarations 10 and 11 indicate that those committed to discipleship and stewardship pledge to share their talents, give of their time and contribute proportionately from their financial resources for the good of the Church and those in need, striving to follow the Biblical call to tithe.
Declaration 12 addresses parish tithing as a replacement for the Annual Catholic Services Appeal and physically taking up second collections.
The Mass Closing the Diocesan Synod will take place at our Cathedral on Sunday, November 26, at 2:00 PM, the Solemnity of Christ the King. Whether or not you will be able to be present in person, I hope that you will join in praying that this historic and significant occasion in the life of our diocese will bear an abundance of spiritual benefits.
May God give us this grace. Amen.