Homily preached at the Opening Mass for the Second Session of Synod, Thursday, January 13
I welcome everyone to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the opening of the second session of the Synod. My homily for the opening of the second session of the Archdiocesan Synod has three parts.
It concludes with an application of the readings of the liturgy to the Synod. The three parts concern: 1) History - to give us a context;
2) Theology - to remind us of our identity; and
3) Mission - to give us direction to our agenda. The application of the readings relates the Holy Spirit to the celebration of the Synod because the Synod is a work of the Holy Spirit.
The Church universal
I think it is important for us to understand that the Archdiocesan Synod of 2003 followed, quite deliberately, the pattern of Vatican Council II. What was that pattern? Let's remember together! Pope John XXIII was convinced that the Church had to gather to look at itself theologically and pastorally and also to restructure itself for ministry in the modern world.
He surprised the world when he convoked Vatican Council II in 1961. It opened in 1962 and was in session four times (usually 3-4 month sessions) until1965. The Council looked at every aspect of the life of the Church.
After the Council closed, the Church was restructured on many levels and the departments that serve the Vicar of Christ were expanded significantly. To make the collaboration at the Council an ongoing part of Church life, a Synod of Bishops was established. It meets every two years to discuss a particular theme.
However, while the Synod of Bishops meets, all the departments of the Vatican continue their ministry to the Church. The first meeting of the Synod of Bishops was in 1967 two years after the Council closed.
Archbishop Pantin arrived at the same conclusion as Pope John XXIII. He thought it was time for the archdiocese to gather to look at itself theologically and pastorally and to restructure itself for ministry in the modern world. He began preparations for a Synod.
Unfortunately, the Lord called him home before he could open the Synod. When I was assigned to the archdiocese, I built on his plans. Similar to Vatican Council II, we prepared for the Synod for a year. Two years ago, 1000 delegates gathered to look at the archdiocese. Similar to Vatican Council II, we looked at every aspect of the life of the archdiocese.
I approved 40 resolutions that the Synod recommended. Then we went to work together. We restructured the archdiocese. To respond to the theology of the Council and the challenges of the modern world, we expanded the participation of laypersons significantly in the structures of the archdiocese.
Similar to the two-year period that followed the Council and preceded the first Synod of Bishops, we decided to re-gather in two years for another session to evaluate what we had done and to continue moving forward together.
The five Mini-Synods in the vicariates have already informed you and the archdiocese about the extraordinary progress that has been made by the Councils, Commissions and Secretariats during the last two years.
Why should we respond to all the challenges of building Church? Why should we continue the very demanding and expensive process of Synod? Why not leave the agenda to the priests and religious as it was in the old days?
The Second Vatican Council answered these questions in the second and fifth chapters of the Constitution on the Church : It taught us that we are the people of God – all of us not just some of us. It taught us that as we work together to build the Church we are striving for holiness because we are pursuing the will of God for the Church and for our lives.
Archbishop Gilbert at the opening session of the Synod on Friday at JFK Lecture Hall
The Council taught us that we cannot ever stop building Church because life never stands still. The essentials of the Catholic Tradition do not change, but the world we serve by sharing Gospel values does change. The terminology used to describe this new reality is: we live in a “post-Christian era” or we live in “a dechristianised world.”
That does not mean you and I are no longer Catholic Christians. It means that a large part of the world no longer thinks in Christian categories. If we do not accept the ongoing challenge of reading the signs of the times and finding fresh, creative ways to respond pastorally, our ministry will become stale and it will not touch the lives of people who are searching for meaning and community.
We are opening the second session of the Synod to evaluate what we have done together over the last two years. The restructuring has basically been on the archdiocesan level with some overflow to the vicariates and parishes.
That was the plan – to start on the archdiocesan level. After evaluation at the Synod, we must continue to refine the structures and methods of pastoral care on the archdiocesan level. However, the thrust of initiative must shift to the second phase of the plan: to the vicariate and parish levels in order to unite the entire archdiocese as Church. That is our mission.
We must motivate those two levels of the archdiocese not only to continue being faithful to their own identities, but also to do on their own levels what has been done on the archdiocesan level. While each parish has legitimate independence as specified in Canon Law and each community has freedom for its internal life according to its approved constitutions, there can be no vicariate, no parish, no religious or ecclesial communities, no Public Associations of Christ's Faithful that are not part of the process of coming together as Church.
The readings of the liturgy
How are we to meet this significant challenge? We meet the challenge by responding to the message of the readings chosen for this liturgy. Openness to the Spirit! Surrendering to the enabling power of the Spirit! We have been anointed in Baptism and Confirmation for relationship with God and for mission.
We have not been anointed to sit on the sidelines and watch. We have been called by Isaiah to rise above having a listless spirit. We have been called by Paul to rise above the individualism of our age and share our gifts for the common good. The glue of our unity is the Holy Spirit. We can never forget that truth of faith. Without the Holy Spirit, no structure, no process and no amount of dialogue will ever achieve its goal.
The promise of the Gospel is especially consoling. John specifies the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us: the Spirit will teach us, the Spirit will help us understand and the Spirit will help us to remember everything Jesus said and did for the salvation of the world. Salvation is what we are about as Church. Salvation is why we have gathered as Synod.
The final section of the editorial of this week's (Jan 16) Catholic News reminds us that we, as Church, are still “receiving” the message of Vatican Council II. It stated quite correctly that “receiving” takes time.
Receiving also requires listening, sharing with respect, reflecting on what was said, how it was said, how it was heard and what it means for us as Church. I invite everyone to acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit at the Synod. I invite everyone to move into a sharing/receiving mode during the Synod.
As we participate in a very rigorous Synod schedule, I invite everyone to remember two of the favourite pastoral principles of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II:
1) Do not be afraid! and
2) Do not get tired!
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, let us move forward together to continue building Church in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.