Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As part of our diocese’s response to Pope Francis’ call to provide input for the Synod of Bishops that will take place at the Vatican in October of 2023, I invite all the faithful of our diocese to a diocesan-wide listening session on Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. Groups will gather locally in the deaneries and connect together with me and across the deaneries by video. Seven locations have been designated as follows:

  • Alton Deanery: One location at St. Boniface Parish, Edwardsville
  • Jerseyville Deanery: One location at Ss. Simon and Jude Parish, Gillespie
  • Mattoon Deanery: Two locations, one at Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon and one at Sacred Heart Parish in Effingham
  • Quincy Deanery: One location at St. Francis Solanus Parish, Quincy
  • Springfield Deanery: Two locations, one at Holy Family Parish in Decatur and one at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Chatham

The theme for the “Synod on Synodality” is: A Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. Pope Francis has encouraged bishops around the world to engage a process of “synodality,” characterized by dialogue, accompaniment, and collaboration among the diocesan leadership, ordained clergy, religious, and lay faithful. In our diocese, we have fully embraced this approach, having completed our Fourth Diocesan Synod of 2017, which involved a comprehensive process of dialogue and discussion, and produced great insights and goals for our diocese to become a community of missionary disciples.

While our official synod process has been completed, we continue to sustain dialogue, listening, and collaboration through avenues such as our Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan Presbyteral Council, parish pastoral visits, and Canonical visitations. After a pause due to COVID-related restrictions, I recently revived parish pastoral visits and intend to visit all 129 parishes over the next few years.

These important and ongoing means of sustained dialogue and collaboration will be supplemented by the input from the local gatherings of the faithful in the deaneries throughout our diocese on March 27. In this session, which will begin in each location at 2 p.m., we will discuss three topics:

  1. We will reflect on the progress we have made in the five years that have passed since we held our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017: In what ways are we seeing the fruits of discipleship unfold in our local communities? What essential work remains to be done? What are the challenges and opportunities we see to evangelize and form missionary disciples of Christ?
  2. We will reflect on synodality and evangelization: A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your particular Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
  3. We will also reflect on challenges to authentic discipleship: Given our negative experience with the loss of Catholic Charities foster care and adoption services 10 years ago due to government mandates contrary to our Catholic faith, how do we prepare for such mandates possibly being imposed on our Catholic schools?

I look forward to the ongoing dialog across our diocese and the insights we will share in this upcoming listening session.

In listening to the needs of the faithful, I am also mindful of the cries for help coming now from the Ukrainian people, who have suffered so much and continue to suffer from the brutal and unjust aggression of Russia’s invasion into their country. While I have no special expertise in military strategy or international diplomacy, it is apparent to everyone in the free world that the Russian attack on the sovereign country of Ukraine is an unprovoked and unjustified act of aggression, which has already cost the lives and livelihoods of many innocent people. As people of faith, our strongest weapon, and the most important thing we can do is to pray, asking our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, and her son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to bring a peaceful end to this dire conflict.

The Gospel message is all about conversion, about change. Changing behavior starts with changing the way we think and the way we talk. There is a poster that urges its readers to “Watch your thoughts, they become your words … your actions … your habits … your character … your destiny.” That expresses well the influence that our thoughts can have on our actions. Obviously, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been engaging in some very toxic and wrongful thinking and has been saying outright lies about the Ukrainian people, leading to very violent actions with lethal consequences. We must pray for his conversion and change of heart, for as Jesus said, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil” (Luke 6:45).

In the alternate Opening Prayer for the Mass in Time of War or Civil Disturbance, which I gave permission for priests to use last Sunday, Feb. 27, we prayed to “God, author and lover of peace,” asking Him to “defend us against every attack of those who cry to you, so that we, who trust in your protection, may not fear the weapons of any foe.” Indeed, the Ukrainian people have been fearless in defending their nation against a much more powerful foe, and we pray for God to protect them and assist them in their time of need. May God give us this grace. Amen.