By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming diocesan synod announced by Bishop Edward J. Burns, which will integrate the synod announced by Pope Francis. What will this local synod, and then also the universal synod, mean for the Church in Dallas? After reading both Bishop Burns’ letter announcing the diocesan synod and “Radical Love, Radical Mission” (a document about the convocation that took place in our diocese in 2017 and focused on youth, campus and young-adult ministries and vocational discernment), I think we can expect many things, including the following.
First, following Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium,” Bishop Burns expressed a desire for the local Church to “recover the original animating spirit of apostolic times” — that is, to meet the challenges of our day with the creativity and boldness that spring from a personal encounter with the risen Jesus and a readiness to accept his call to join the Great Commission. Sometimes, when I listen to people today (and of course to my own heart), I realize we are sometimes very anxious about the future; no matter which side of the political, social, and pandemic-related controversies we find ourselves on, we seem vulnerable to thinking too narrowly about the spiritual dimensions of our struggles, and, most importantly, about Jesus’ promise to be with us in every trial until the end of the age (cf. Mt 28:20) to guide us into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13). Our anxiety can even extend to controversies about matters that involve the Church directly, such as the right way to celebrate the liturgy or deal with the various scandals and the many sensitive pastoral questions that face us. Let us always remember that God is real and his goodness is immeasurable. He is moving in our times. Let us rediscover the faith of the Apostles and set out into the world, as Bishop Burns says, “with a willingness to do and to suffer anything if only to preach Christ crucified and risen as the only hope for the world.” Seek first the Kingdom of God, and everything will be given us besides (cf. Mt 6:33). We should not expect, in this life, to know how all the problems we think we see will all work out. Neither did the Apostles anticipate how their little band would, by the power of God, transform many hostile cultures in order to reach the entire world. It is enough just to give our lives away to God lovingly and with courage, and to trust that he will turn the dying seeds of our efforts (cf. Jn 12:24) into an abundant harvest. Let us live like the Apostles: that is, let us meet Jesus, the Lord of history, and allow his promises to send us boldly into the fray.
Second, the diocesan synod is an important moment for all of us to become more engaged in the life of the Church. When announcing the synod, Bishop Burns expressed his desire “to encourage the faithful to take on an active role in advancing the pastoral mission of the Church.” This fits the “overall recommendation” from “Radical Love, Radical Mission” that “the Diocese of Dallas develop a strategic plan to move faith communities, schools, and campuses that are functioning in a maintenance mode to a missionary mode.” Every authentic Christian is a disciple of Jesus, and therefore destined to be a missionary. The Church does not have a client relationship with her members. Ministers and administrators are not providing a product to passive consumers. All the members of the Church must be active participants in her life and work. The joy of being a Christian is apprehending the love of God, and in that love discovering our vocation in the Church — the very purpose of our lives. Pope Francis made this connection between Christian life and vocation a cornerstone of his papacy when he chose miserando atque eligendo as his motto: in the very moment God has mercy on us (miserando) he also calls us (eligendo). No one ever met Jesus without finding in him a new direction for his life. We are each called by God for a cosmic purpose, and the greatest joy of our lives is following him to the fulfillment of his personal mission for us. There are so many needs in the Church — many still to be discovered — and each and every Christian must cultivate his or her gifts for the edification of God’s people (cf. 1 Cor 14:12). We are all essential. Let us each live from an encounter with Jesus, and then obey him as he sends us into our families, parishes and circles of activity in the Church and in the world.
Our lives are not our own, and they become immensely exciting when we consent to be drawn up into God’s great design. There is no greater news than the Gospel. Do you know how to encounter Jesus? Do you hear him offering his mercy and calling you? As the synod approaches, take stock of your many gifts and of the needs of the Church, and then ready yourself for the exciting and creative task of everyone working together for God’s purpose.
Father John Bayer, O. Cist., is a monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.