February 25, 2022

The synodal process and the Eucharist: A reflection

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson preaches a homily during an Oct. 17, 2021, Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis that began the archdiocese’s participation in the preparation for a 2023 meeting at the Vatican of the Synod of Bishops on synodality in the Church. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson preaches a homily during an Oct. 17, 2021, Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis that began the archdiocese’s participation in the preparation for a 2023 meeting at the Vatican of the Synod of Bishops on synodality in the Church. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Pope Francis has announced that the next Synod of Bishops in 2023 will focus on the synodal process itself. Thus, it has been aptly deemed as “The Synod on Synodality: Communion, Participation and Mission.”

Many in the Church, including the Holy Father, consider the path of synodality as essential to the Church’s credibility and relevance for the 21th century. Coinciding with this announcement for the universal Church, the bishops of the United States have announced the undertaking of a three-year eucharistic revival.

While neither announcement was made with the other in mind, these two themes—namely, synodality and the Eucharist—are not mutually exclusive of one another. In fact, as I mentioned in an initial interview about Indianapolis being selected as host for the National Eucharistic Congress slated for July 2024, an intentional focus on the linking of these two primary focuses on what it means to be Catholic could provide us a tremendous opportunity of grace.

Referencing the Second Vatican Council’s “Lumen Gentium” (“The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”), the Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life” in and through which all ministries and services are bound up and oriented toward. [#1324] “In brief,” the catechism states, “the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith” (#1327). In essence, our communion, participation and mission as Catholics is rooted in our eucharistic identity.

The proper disposition for engaging in an authentic synodal process involves a willingness to remain open and intentional about accompaniment, dialogue and encounter. Such commitment for Catholics must be grounded in the word of God, the grace of sacraments and the outreach of service. Prayer, both individual and communal, as well as Catholic teaching are essential to such commitment and process.

Accompaniment involves meeting persons where they are, healing wounds and warming hearts, but not merely leaving them where they are found. The word implies being intentional about bringing others along in the journey of faith, striving for healing, growth, reconciliation and conversion for each and every person.

Authentic dialogue is predicated on a willingness to actively listen, trust, respect and respond rather than react to one another. Any tendency toward name-calling, yelling or threatening undermines true dialogue.

What does it mean to encounter one another? First and foremost, for Christians, it means that we look toward one another with a sense of awe and wonder for the sacred mingled with our humanity. It also means that we are open to an experience of one another in a spirit of integrity, compassion, courage and an understanding of objective truth.

In light of its Greek root, meaning “to give thanks,” Eucharist is “an action of thanksgiving to God.” As others have noted, grateful persons are often the happiest among us. In an age of extreme polarization in practically every facet of life, feeding and being fed by the radical individualism that glorifies a sense of subjective truth while casting aside moral truth, it is easy for us to focus on all that divides us as persons, Americans and Catholics.

Yet, as Christians, our first focus and act should be one of gratitude to God for the gifts and blessings bestowed upon us, especially that of mercy. God seeks to unite while Satan seeks to divide.

Centering our lives and relationships on the Eucharist, we must strive with grateful hearts and minds to embrace unity within diversity rather than allow the evil one to drive us apart. Even in matters of disagreement, we must not succumb to hatred, deception, disrespect, abuse and violence. In fidelity to our eucharistic identity and mission as Catholics, we must always seek the path of synodality by means of accompaniment, dialogue and encounter.

In order to counter the detrimental effects of polarization in practically every facet of society and religion today, there must be a willingness and ability for nuance in ways of thinking, engaging and relating to one another. We simply cannot reduce everyone and everything to the measure of being either with or against us. There is far too much at stake to so readily “write off” one another as persons to be canonized or condemned, divinized or demonized. As the saying goes, “every saint has a past while every sinner has a future.”

We do well to keep in mind that Jesus ate and drank with sinners, meeting them as they were but not leaving them as he found them. With each encounter, if the sinner was open to receiving God’s grace, a transformation took place. Such transformation was possible because of the respect, understanding and mercy that nuanced a process of conversion. To put it another way, it takes a bit of nuance to grasp what it means to love the sinner but hate the sin. Jesus sought to save people while condemning sin, particularly that of hypocrisy.

Our fruitful engagement in the synodal process of listening and discerning, especially as enhanced by our identity as a community of believers, necessarily demands that we be Christ-centered in our willingness to encounter one another in a spirit of openness, courage, humility and generosity. Catholic presence, identity and mission are rooted in the belief and lived experience of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

As we journey together in preparation for “The Synod on Synodality: Communion, Participation and Mission” in October 2023, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to prayerful listening, genuine encounter with Christ (especially in the Eucharist), and discernment of God’s will for us.

May our Blessed Mother Mary and all the angels and saints walk with us, reminding us to respect one another in spite of our differences and disagreement. In all things, let us give thanks and praise to the Holy Trinity—God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—whose love and mercy are everlasting! †

Related: Synodal meeting with Archbishop Thompson set for March 5 in Columbus

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