The Catholic Church worldwide embarked on a discussion – as requested by Pope Francis – on synodality. Locally, the process began on Oct. 17 with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
“Synodality is a word we don’t use often, but it is a concept we understand,” the bishop said. Synodality expresses the idea that we must walk together, he explained. “After all, we go together on the journey of faith. We are a pilgrim people – not just individuals walking alone. Synodality, a call to move together toward the goal of salvation, is in the nature of the Church,” he added.
Bishop Malesic used three images to help explain the concept of synodality: the Thanksgiving meal, the Magi and the Road to Emmaus.
On Thanksgiving, we gather with family and friends for a great meal, he said. Although the meal may look different in each home, certain things are common. For one, it’s a time when many people gather together. That means the table will be extended and perhaps other eating space added. Often, families invite relatives and make accommodations for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.
“Everybody wants their voice to be heard at the table and around the home,” the bishop said. Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to begin the process of reconciliation. “We must give everyone the opportunity to be understood and loved.”
Discussions can be tense, but usually someone fills the role of peacemaker, reminding everyone that the most important thing is to be family, to give thanks, to listen to one another, to support each other, to find common heritage and to walk together.
“The Synod on Synodality, like Thanksgiving dinner, is also a coming together to hear one another, to share our experiences, challenges and our hopes. To listen. To discern. To be strengthened as a family of faith. As the Old Testament said, ‘We have only to carry it out,’” the bishop said.
During the next few months, the opportunity to listen, to be heard and to discern what it means to be a member of this family of faith will be afforded to all. Also, we can focus on our common mission: we are called to hear God’s word and proclaim the Gospel. “We are, in fact, all called to be missionary disciples of the good news,” Bishop Malesic said.
The second image, the Magi, reminds us that we, the people of God, are on a journey to the Promised Land of God’s reign,” Bishop Malesic said. We make our way to God’s kingdom by following Jesus and entering daily into his Paschal mystery through the power of the Holy Spirit. “We are walking together to find Jesus and then take him with us on our ongoing journey,” he added.
The image used on the worship aid for the Mass shows a bishop walking with a crowd of people. “I am also part of the People of God. I am also a member of this Church, but I happen to be a bishop. We go forth together.”
He reminded the congregation that the Magi’s journey wasn’t easy. They had challenges along the way, but found Baby Jesus and their lives would never be the same. Also, they couldn’t return home by the same route, which is the same for us.
“When we encounter Jesus, our lives change for the better. We cannot walk the same way once we have found him. The Church – us – walks in a different way because we have found Jesus,” the bishop explained. And then he goes with us on a different path.
The synodal process is an invitation to walk together to Jesus, to encounter him and to find him in one another, the bishop said. “We must also dare to become closer to Jesus and one another along the way. We can listen to each other and discern how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives.” He said, noting that if we do this well. We will be changed people who are better equipped for the mission of evangelizing, talking about Jesus to those around us. “As baptized believers, listening to Jesus, talking about Jesus and brining Jesus to others is the obligation of each of us,” he added.
That includes everyone – young old, rich, poor people of every race and nationality and even people who might no longer worship with us. “God speaks to us through them, too,” the bishop said. “And if we listen closely, we will hear the Spirit urging us to be a better Church together. That is my hope and I think it is the hope of Pope Francis, too,” he added.
The third image, the Road to Emmaus, reminds us of the Gospel story of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem and away from Jesus. But Jesus approached and began walking with them, again bringing to mind the image of a procession or pilgrimage. The bishop said the disciples were distressed and disappointed in Jesus, who they thought was dead. He let them voice their concerns, asking them to share what was in their hearts.
“This is so typical of Jesus, who meets people where they are and walks with them as he listens to them,” Bishop Malesic said. “But then it is their turn to listen to Jesus,” who opens the Scriptures to them and helps them overcome their doubts. He also breaks bread for them and they come to know him in the Eucharist, as we come to know Jesus in the Mass,
“The men who encountered Jesus become the witnesses of his Resurrection to their families and friends. They become missionary disciples,” he said, reminding us we must do the same.
We are people on a journey and Jesus wants to meet us where we are, to walk with us, listen to us and renew us, the bishop said, giving us his Holy Spirit to enlighten us to that we can come to better understand who we are and whose we are as sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters in Christ.
During Advent, we will be invited to enter the synod in our local faith communities, he said, adding he hopes to hear from everyone. However, the bishop added some words of caution, noting that the synod “is not a complaint session. It is not a time to only see problems. In fact, the synod process should give rise to hope,” he said. It is not a time to create conflict and division. Jesus prays that we may be one. Let this Synod on Synodality be a time for conversation and conversion for all of us. Then, as a renewed family of faith, walking with one another, listening to each other and discerning God’s will for us, others will look and say, ‘See how much they love one another,’ and join us on the journey with Jesus, who says to us always, ‘Come and follow me.’”
Concelebrating the Mass were Father Damian Ference, vicar for evangelization who is helping to lead the synodal process in the diocese; Father Sean Ralph, cathedral rector; Father Ben Jimenez, SJ, parochial vicar at St. Augustine Parish in Cleveland; and Father Chris Trenta, a faculty member at Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology. Deacon John Sferry and Deacon Matt Lawler assisted.
Parishes were invited to send representatives to the liturgy, which was livestreamed and can be viewed on demand on the diocesan website. Several students from Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Holy Name and Elyria Catholic high schools also attended.
An icon of St. John the Evangelist, patron saint of the cathedral, mother church of the diocese, was carried in the entrance procession. It was placed near the altar next to a large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. After the Gospel was read, the Book of the Gospels was placed next to the two pictures. Bishop Malesic blessed them all as well as the congregation.
For more information and resources on the Synod for Synodality, click here.