My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The beginning of a new year is typically a time to make resolutions to do something better, different or new. It is fitting that we make such resolutions at the start of this new year not only for ourselves individually, but also for our diocese collectively. In order to do that, I have decided that during this Year of Our Lord 2017 we will celebrate our fourth Diocesan Synod. The previous diocesan synods were held in 1889 (when our diocese was based in Alton), 1953 and 1963. Since it has been more than half a century since our previous diocesan synod, you might say that we are long overdue to have another one!
A diocesan synod is a group of selected priests and other Christian faithful of a particular diocese which meets to offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the entire diocesan community. The word “synod” simply means “meeting” in Greek. Of course, meetings take place all the time in a diocese, but a diocesan synod is a special type of meeting convoking a sizeable number of people who advise the diocesan bishop in setting the direction for the pastoral ministry of the parishes and other components of the diocese itself for the next several years.
According to canon law, a diocesan synod is to be celebrated in a diocese when particular circumstances warrant it in the judgment of the diocesan bishop, after he has consulted the Presbyteral Council. I have consulted with our Presbyteral Council, which represents the priests of the diocese, as well as with the diocesan Pastoral Council, which includes two lay representatives from each of the seven deaneries of the diocese, and both of these councils have enthusiastically recommended that I convoke a diocesan synod this year.
Some of the members of the diocesan synod are designated by canon law, such as the vicar general, the judicial vicar, the deans, the Presbyteral Council, the Diocesan Pastoral Council and representatives of consecrated religious. Others are appointed by the diocesan bishop, and I have decided in consultation with our preparatory commission for the diocesan synod that each parish pastoral council of our 129 parishes will select one parishioner to represent the parish as an official member of the diocesan synod.
So what will the synod do? The mandate that I have established for our diocesan synod is to consider how we can make a communal commitment as a diocesan community of clergy and laity regarding discipleship and stewardship as a way of life. Specifically, this will include looking at the biblical concept of tithing and defining what that means for us as a diocese in terms of stewardship of our time, talent and treasure. Closely related to this will be for us to look at how we can foster community-wide support of Catholic education so that more students will be able to attend Catholic schools. This involves understanding Catholic education as being the responsibility for everyone in each parish as a means to hand on the faith to the next generation of Catholics, not just the financial burden of parents to pay for their children’s education.
Since one of the outcomes of a diocesan synod is particular legislation for the diocese, we will look to update our diocesan statutes, which may be understood as a basic constitution that officially guides the policies, procedures and practices of the diocese, the parishes and other entities of the diocese, with a special focus on how to live discipleship and stewardship as a way of life of the faithful of our diocese.
The general timeline will start with an opening ceremony on Jan. 22. Throughout 2017 committees will draft the synodal directory, the questions for discussion and proposed synodal declarations, decrees and statutes. There will be listening sessions in the deaneries and parishes, as well as opportunities for people to offer feedback online through our diocesan website. The solemn closing of the synod will take place on Nov. 26, 2017.
Specifically, the schedule for the various events associated with our fourth diocesan synod is as follows:
My main hope for our diocesan synod is that our clergy and laity together with me will make a heartfelt commitment to stewardship and discipleship as a way of life. We will need to overcome our doubts and fears in order to succeed in this endeavor. In the end, what makes this so important is that it is all about our future as a church: whether we will diminish or grow as a community of faith. I fervently pray that it will be the latter, showering our diocese with abundant blessings of unprecedented growth.
May God give us this grace. Amen.