On Sunday, October 5, 2008, the latest Synod of Bishops began at the Vatican. It will continue until October 26.
A Synod is a gathering of bishops representing Catholics from around the world. Each country’s bishops’ conference elects bishop-delegates to represent them. In addition, there are experts selected from the laity, religious, ordained, and from specific organizations. A Synod is called by the Pope to focus on a specific topic of discussion. The theme of the current Synod is the Bible, or more specifically, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The last Synod, on the Eucharist, was held in 2005.
The US bishops’ conference has established a website that gives an overview of US participants. The Vatican also has a website, but they have taken a very unique and exciting step. They are issuing daily bulletins that list the specific comments made by Synod delegates. This is amazing. As part of the normal Synod process, bishops and other experts give a brief presentation of their thoughts on this topic. Usually, the media captures a few quotes. But thanks to technology, all Catholics and other interested people can now read what every delegate is saying about the topic. Just go to the Vatican website, scroll down and click on one of the dates listed under the “Index of interventions by participants.” Note that several bulletins are sometimes issued in one day, and that 09.10.2008 means October 9, 2008.
In browsing through the interventions, or short speeches, made so far, it is fascinating to read how many are focusing on the need to improve preaching in our parishes. Even Pope John Paul II’s former secretary who is now the Cardinal in Krakow, Poland, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, points out how seminaries need to improve their training on preaching. As he comments, “Sometimes it seems that candidates to the priesthood treat the texts of the Sacred Scriptures as an object of study without taking into account its spiritual dimension. For them, the Scripture does not become the Word of their life.”
Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago notes that “If the power of God’s word in Holy Scripture is to be felt in the life and mission of the Church, pastors must attend to personal context as well as inspired text.”
Bishop Kicanas, Diocese of Tucson, Arizona, made a fascinating proposal during his first intervention. Also focusing on the need to have the Word come alive in preaching, he asked the following questions: “What if, after this Year of St. Paul, the Church Universal focused a year on preaching in the Eucharistic assembly? What if, in that year of preaching, priests and deacons together with their bishop studied what matters in order to preach better? What if, in that year of preaching, priests and deacons with their bishop met with the laity to listen to their struggles? They could discuss how preaching might inspire the laity to be a leaven for the world, bringing the Gospel values to the questions of the times. What if, in that year of preaching, there would be a thorough exploration of the catechetical potential of the Sunday homily? If all these “what ifs” were realized then the new springtime for Christianity about which the Holy Father speaks could burst forth and bloom throughout the Church, renewing the Church, strengthening evangelization, intensifying catechesis, and enhancing discipleship.”
The fact that the Vatican is publishing all of these comments almost immediately on the internet is already a sign of a new blossoming in the Church. Rather than having a Synod occur behind-the-scenes, with a report printed later and a short news article making it to the diocesan newspapers, Catholics everywhere can now take part in the ongoing discussions almost as if we were in Rome as official observers. This is a significant step and an opportunity we should not miss.