My dear friends in Christ,

Imagine that you decided to walk to Mass and as you are walking you run into someone that you see at Mass every week but really don’t know all that well. As you make way together to church you begin to talk with this person, you tell your stories and you listen to their stories and before you know it things are different, you are friends! In turn it makes your engagement in the life of the church richer because now you have a new person to walk to church with and someone to say hello to.

My brothers and sisters that is essentially what a synod is and it is what our Holy Father is asking of Catholics around the world to engage in this year. Catholics everywhere are being asked to meet together on the way. Our destination is of course the eternal kingdom established by our Lord, the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem promised in the Book of Revelation.

The term “synod” comes from two Greek words “syn” meaning meeting and “hodos” meaning way. It is a meeting on the way.

Typically, a synod is a gathering in Rome, with the Holy Father picking a specific topic. He summons representatives from all the continents, with laity and clergy alike, subject matter experts, they gather in Rome and have discussions around this topic. Eventually produce a document, a post synodal document.

This time Pope Francis wants to do it much differently, he doesn’t want to begin by bringing in just a select representative body, he wants this to be a truly universal gathering, a universal encounter, a universal “meeting on the way.”  He wants every diocese in the country, and then by extension every parish, every group worldwide, to come together and dialogue, to ask ourselves, what is God asking of us as a church.

The elements of a synod are first, like the walk to Mass, the encounter. Then the next step is to listen to one another, and finally to discern.

Helping to guide this important process is Fr. Michael Pierz and our diocesan synod planning team. They are laying the groundwork for this effort and I ask every parish and Catholic organization to lend their support by hosting these synod discussions across our diocese and encouraging all to take part.

The key of this process is listening, that we don’t show up with our own agenda, rather we first must listen to what others have to say and share what is on our hearts. The essential quality is this, that the Holy Spirit does not speak to the Pope alone, the Holy Spirit doesn’t talk to bishops only, not to priest only or people with religious habits. The Holy Spirit is speaking to each and every single one of us.  And so, we have to be able to listen ourselves, to what it is that we desire as church. You are as much of a part of the church as the Pope or me or anyone else.

And by nature of our baptism, we are called fundamentally to be members of that body. But therein lies also a duty with that dignity, its not just the dignity of our baptism, but a duty, to be actively engaged in the life of the church.

The question we are going to ask ourselves is: What is God asking of us? How can we be better? How can we grow according to the yearnings of the Spirit within our lives? This question I pose to you, so that when we gather together, after the New Year, we will have those seeds planted, and the fruits of that question, that desire of the Spirit to speak from us and with us and to listen to what our sisters and brothers have to say. And therein, begin to discern what God is asking of us.

Before we had indication, we were going to have a worldwide Synod, we had already planned a diocesan Year of the Eucharist here, starting in Advent. With the shocking reality that so few Catholics believe in the real presence or ever really knew that Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

These are not two trains running on different tracks. I believe it is the Holy Spirit working for us and through us. That as we begin to discern, we also have to listen ourselves, to how the Lord is speaking to us.

What more powerful way than to do that, in the presence of Jesus Himself, in the reception of the Eucharist

And so my brothers and sisters I strongly invite you to join me in this synodal process as a great adventure.  A great adventure to encounter one another, those we know, and excitingly those we don’t yet know, but soon we will be dear friends. Then to begin to listen. Listen to Christ himself speak to us, but also how the Holy Spirit works through our sisters and brothers. And then for us to discern, not just as a universal church, but as a local church, here in western Massachusetts.

Praise be Jesus Christ,

Most Rev. William D. Byrne

Bishop of Springfield