Responses to Synod of Bishops Questions
We were given the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings on a variety of Church-related topics in preparation for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2023. The questionnaire was one of several ways that those who live in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas could offer their input for this synod, the theme of which is: For a Synodal Church – Communion, Participation, and Mission. Here is a summary from our parishioners participation, which has been shared with the Archdiocese. Other Parishes in our Archdiocese are also sending their responses to the Diocesan offices as well. The responses will be compiled and shared at the Synod of Bishops Conference that occurs at the Vatican.
RESPONSES TO SYNOD OF BISHOPS QUESTIONS
The Catholic Church is a listening Church at its best through each parish priest who is physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually sound. Each time he acts joyfully, graciously, and empathetically toward his parishioners during Mass or outside of Mass, he conveys a listening Church. When the Church acknowledges, promotes, and prays for the need for healing from weakness and scandal, she exemplifies a listening Church. Barriers to the Church listening to her people include personal prejudices of both priests and parishioners, such as sexism, racism, and other judgmental mindsets. In addition, teaching and explaining the faith and why the Church believes a certain way on a given issue is extremely important. Parishioners need to know that the tenets of the Catholic Church are not arbitrary, but based on thousands of years of faith, reason, tradition and scripture. Most of the time, “not feeling listened to” is based on misunderstanding or lack of education on a given subject, and then, exacerbated in today’s complicated secular and divisive culture.
SPEAKING OUT ABOUT OUR FAITH
The way we live our lives, consistently and without duplicity, should speak loudly and clearly about our faith to all those around us. This Christian behavior should establish a safe environment that promotes trust and dialogue between people, whether Catholic, non-Catholic, Christian, or non-Christian. We should not be fearful of actually speaking out when necessary, but by staying strong in our convictions and without judging. Ongoing catechesis for all ages is necessary to feel confident when speaking out. Many older Catholics do not feel confident explaining their faith because they were taught to memorize facts and follow the rules as they learned them. Younger Catholics are faced with difficult choices and might fear speaking out and being judged as intolerant. The mainstream media generally deletes the Christian viewpoint or presents the Christian point of view as negative and out of step with modern culture. This manipulation puts teens and young adults, in particular, in a difficult position. We have evangelists like Bishop Robert Barron and Fr. Mike Schmitz who represent Catholics and clarify the faith in a loving and positive way, and who are role models for us to do the same.
Prayer, the Mass, and other liturgical celebrations, especially the Holy Eucharist, are central to our Catholic faith, as well as our family and community life. These devotions build our solid faith foundation and create a sense of unity and belonging, and are therefore extremely important. Parishioner prayer chains and groups praying the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy embody faith in God, hope in eternal life, and love of neighbor. The sacraments provide the grace that families need to bear witness to their faith, and carry out the mission of Jesus in our communities through love and inclusivity. Promoting prayerful, reverent, and active participation requires leading by example, and involving parishioners of all ages in ministries that enhance the liturgies. A better understanding of the Real Presence, as well as the importance of Eucharistic Adoration is also imperative to our Catholic faith.
EXERCISING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR CHRISTIAN MISSION
Educational opportunities and Scripture studies would help foster community outreach and Christian conversation. The Christian worldview seems non-existent or is quickly overrun by the cycle of negative news and social media. Not being afraid to stand up and live our faith, and to be able to articulate our beliefs despite moral relativism and increased secularism will allow Catholics to participate more fully in furthering Christ’s mission. The true mission of the Church should be comprehensive, not compartmentalized.
We must acknowledge that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and that all are worthy and welcome. We should be more concerned with understanding and helping others than determining whether they are sinful or unworthy. As Catholics, we should be able to nurture a welcoming, healthy, spiritual environment while remaining true to the tenets of the Catholic Church. The Church should not feel threatened or pressured to change, but should be better able to explain her stance, for instance, on divorce, women as priests, and homosexuality. There should be a way to express one’s Catholic viewpoint and explain why Jesus calls us to a life that at first glance appears to oppose some modern lifestyles. We can accept those with differing views on subjects like living together and premarital sex or homosexuality and same sex marriage, while keeping the focus on Jesus and out of the political arena. In addition, the Church should make sure that the commitment to being Pro-Life is not strictly about abortion, especially since it has become such a politically charged topic. A Pro-Life stance should include concerns about the complete human person, such as education, health care, poverty, homelessness, social justice, and care for the elderly, to name a few. For example, the pandemic could have been addressed as a Respect Life issue with regard to masks, social distancing, and vaccinations, conveying an opportunity to literally protect and respect the lives of self and neighbor, thereby eliminating the political component altogether.
Our Church supports many ministries and opportunities for volunteering. Many times the same individuals continue to volunteer and others might feel like it becomes a closed club. If the Church promoted the importance of service even at a young age, and parishioners started volunteering time and talent early, a greater percentage of parishioners would be more comfortable getting involved throughout their lifetimes. We should advocate for and engage the whole parish community as much as possible; organizations like CYO youth sports and the Knights of Columbus do a good job of this. Our society thrives on segregating groups of people, which results in judgment, misunderstanding, and division. Our Church, however, should do the opposite and promote the integrity and strength of the whole parish community through ministries and service projects, educational opportunities and Bible studies, celebrations and gatherings. Our strength as a community is powerful and the effectiveness of our evangelization beyond the doors of the church increases when we unite and ignite our Catholic faith. Whether a parishioner is single or married, has children in the school or not in the school, has a specific talent relevant to the liturgy or not, all should feel welcome and encouraged to participate in the vision and mission of the parish.
The concern about transparency at all levels of the Catholic Church is valid. In order to have complete trust in the institution and the hierarchy of the Church, parishioners are entitled to know what decisions are being made and why. Making information available through parish bulletins and websites ensures that parishioners are aware of decisions that affect their lives. They should also have a platform to voice an opinion, especially at the parish level, either through a written question and concern submission process or by attending a meeting in person. Major donors are sometimes seen as having a greater say regarding the inner workings of the Church, which should never be the case. Although financial support is crucial to a parish, a single elite group should not take over the decision making process. Councils and ministries should first and foremost be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as well as to parishioner input, and be aware at all times that they represent the parish community as a whole.
The importance of education and catechesis cannot be overstated. Each parish should provide opportunities for growth at every age level. To believe that a grade school education in the faith is sufficient in our ever changing world is shortsighted. More faith education throughout one’s lifetime would inevitably result in an increased awareness and sense of community inside and outside of the Catholic Church. The more comprehensive the catechesis within a parish, both Catholicism and Scripture study, the better equipped a person is to incorporate faith into daily life and evangelize to others. The Catholic Church challenges couples to raise their children in the faith, and beautifully supports and promotes Catholic schools, which may be the ideal way to educate one’s children. However, if a child is not blessed with going to a Catholic school for whatever reason or circumstance, the Church does not provide the same level of religious education. In many ways, these children, just like teens and young adults, need more faith fortification since they do not have a protected faith based school environment. Additionally, many adults have forgotten or lapsed in their practice of the faith, and engaging them in faith education not only edifies them, but their families, as well. Promoting the domestic church requires educational opportunities at all levels so that Catholics are able to embrace, enflame, and evangelize their faith.
DIALOGUE IN CHURCH AND SOCIETY
Interfaith conversations are important, and should be encouraged. However, we should strive to eliminate divisiveness and political slants on every issue. Better to live by example and when asked, be able to explain one’s viewpoint in a loving way. Arguing and seeking controversy is counterproductive. Everyone does not have to believe the exact same thing and can co-exist as a child of God.
OTHER COMMUNITIES OF FAITH
Our Catholic community does participate with other communities of faith in Pro-Life efforts and support for local food kitchens and ministries. These efforts make such a positive impact, and coming together for the common good can always be expanded. Service should be promoted at a younger age and incorporated into the very fiber of our Christian lives.