Homily for the Concluding Mass
of the Third Diocesan Synod
BY BISHOP WILLIAM K. WEIGAND
October 9, 2006 Third Session
Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
Dear Members of the Third Diocesan Synod and Friends:
After a lapse of more than 300 years, the Hierarchy of England and Wales was restored to full ecclesial life By Pope Pius IX. This action evoked controversy and antipapal sentiment among members of the Church of England. This formal re-establishment of the hierarchy of England and Wales was solemnized at the first provincial Synod of Westminster in 1852 (only 35 years before the first Synod of Sacramento in 1887). The future Cardinal John Henry Newman gave a renowned sermon which has come to be known as “The Second Spring.” Newman touched upon the essence of what a Synod is in the life of the Church: “A new beginning, a new church, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
While circumstances are very different, our own synod process, like all synods, is also a kind of “second spring” — a new beginning. When we gathered two years ago to open this Third Diocesan Synod, the Holy Spirit was very evident in the deliberations of the assembly gathered at St. Isidore’s Parish in Yuba City. The Holy Spirit spoke through you, the members of the Synod, as you, in union with me the Diocesan Bishop, exercised your prophetic function of our common baptismal priesthood. Your dedicated work led the Synod to recommend to me eight pastoral initiatives, eight priorities to guide our local Church — a clear pastoral plan for our Diocese.
This Synod of ours is already showing itself to be like a second spring — “a new blossoming of the spiritual and pastoral life of the Diocese” a proper response to the Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt. 28:19) You have raised to first priority for the Diocese the handing on of the faith at all levels, especially to the young, to families, to those of ethnic communities. You call us to work and pray harder for local vocations. You remind us of an essential outreach to the poor. You call us to greater collaboration, to lay apostolate, lay ministry, shared responsibility and mutual accountability. For two years you have already been implementing the Synod initiatives in the parishes, deaneries, and Diocese at large.
There have been deanery discussions on vocations, youth ministry, lay formation. We had an accountability report — “a reality check” from the parishes and diocese in January 2006. We have been calling forth the gifts of the laity in parish pastoral councils; in diocesan councils, commissions, boards; and in the beginnings of deanery councils. We have had convocations of priests. We have distributed the policies and guidelines of the diocese to make us all more accountable. We are now completing diocesan statutes in response to the Synod initiatives, so that the “rules for the journey” are clear and uniform in our diocesan law and that there is consistency throughout the Diocese. We have made good progress in collaborating at all levels, in networking and sharing of resources.
This Synodal second spring is issuing forth from the unique endowment of the People of God. Paraphrasing paragraph 12 of the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium, you have manifested a supernatural appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth — the sensus fidei that was evident in the work of the Synod. Adhering faithfully to this faith, you penetrated it more deeply with right judgement, and applied it wisely to the current needs of our daily life. Special graces of the Holy Spirit made you fit and ready to undertake the work of the Synod for renewing and upbuilding our Diocesan Church. In exercising the sensus fidei, you have been guided by the sacred teaching authority in the Church.
It is clear to me that the Holy Spirit has inspired this Synodal body to offer me trustworthy counsel to enable me to make wise provisions for the renewal and the more ample and effective upbuilding of the People of God of this diocese, and for our peaceful shepherding in the footsteps of our chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus.
When I promulgated the pastoral priorities and other documents of the pastoral phase of the Synod on January 9, 2005, I, in effect, commissioned the members of the Synod to engage the rest of the faithful of the Diocese in dialogue around the eight pastoral priorities. You have been doing this for over a year and a half as the list of accomplishments I enumerated indicates. The second and third solemn sessions have been reporting on that dialogue, which has been encouraging everyone to participate at every level in the implementation of the Synod’s initiatives and directives.
To quote Father Sylvester McDermott: “We stand at the threshold of a new stage in the journey of our common pilgrimage: the pendulum of dialogue begins a new, decisive and qualitatively different swing from discernment in the Spirit to implementation through evangelization in the same Spirit. That Spirit calls on each of us to activate and exercise our baptismal participation in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, to the upbuilding of his Body.”
In the first Scripture reading we see the Israelities finally about to enter the promised land after 40 years in the desert — “a land with streams of water…of vines and fig trees…and of honey.” But it was not heaven. They would still have to exert great effort, confront struggles of a very different kind. “Be careful not to forget the Lord…and become haughty of heart…saying to yourselves, ‘It is my own power …that has obtained this wealth.’” History would show that they would not keep their focus and priorities clear; that they would have countless ups and downs, endless cycles of defection and conversion. Always the Lord stayed with them, rescued them and guided them onward.
Their history suggests that as we conclude the Synod “this marvelous experience of being Church in the power of the Holy Spirit” we do not enter some kind of utopia. We know that the process of becoming the ideal Church, the fully redeemed and formed Body of Christ, is always a work in progress; that it will never be complete until we get to God. Therefore, we conclude the Synod with full awareness that our focus and follow through will be maintained only with difficulty and effort. Realistically, we are prepared for disappointments.
Cardinal Newman, when he spoke so eloquently of a second spring budding forth, added: “We have had reason to expect that such a boon would not be given to us without a cross. It is not God’s way that great blessings should descend without the sacrifice first of great sufferings. If the truth is to be spread to any wide extent among this people, how can we dream, how can we hope, that trial and trouble shall not accompany its going forth?…Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering, of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold showers, and sudden storms? …We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it.”
As in Cardinal Newman’s time, we press forward in hope. It is the Lord who leads, who empowers us and He will not desert us. “Behold, I am with you all days until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) The Spirit will continue to speak and work through all of us, if we stay immersed in prayer, constantly renewing our commitment, staying open to the special graces that the Spirit distributes for renewing and upbuilding his Church.
We are ready for the hard work ahead, I believe. We rise to the Lord’s challenge to “put out into the deep.” Yes, we will be over our heads, but the Lord is in the boat with us and in his time the catch will be great. Full of hope and inspired by our experience of these two years of Synod work and implementation, we commit anew to doing all we can to implement the directives of the Synod, to do our best to engage all the rest of the faithful in this dialogue and process. We take comfort in Pope Benedict XVI’s counsel: “In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we.” (Deus est Caritas #35)
Our second Scripture reading today should give us great confidence. St. Paul reminds us: “In Christ you were chosen…you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…I do not cease giving thanks for you…May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” Then Paul compares that power at work in us to that which raised Christ “from the dead, seating him at his right hand in the heavens.” (Eph 1:13-20) It is resurrection power at work in us, too!
Therefore, in spite of disappointments that may come, uneven results from parish to parish, imperfections and flaws of all kinds, we press forward in hope; we rely on the power of God who ever remains with us; we continue our arduous pilgrimage knowing that nothing is perfect here, but equally conscious that we “journey together in Christ,” who is the Savior, who most certainly will achieve his purpose; who will, one day, complete the building up of his Kingdom and come again in glory. With Paul, we stretch forward, convinced that “He who has begun the good work in (us), will bring it to fulfillment.”
Looking ahead, how might the Holy Spirit lead us to continue implementing the pastoral initiatives of the Synod? There will be a special convocation of priests in October 2007. The Diocesan Pastoral Council suggests that we might have “Regional Assemblies” also a year from now, modeling these on the structure of the Synod. This would call for all the leaders (lay, religious, and clergy) of two or three deaneries gathering together for a day of prayer, reflection, dialogue, and pastoral planning. Two years from now we might call all these same leaders together in a larger “Diocesan Assembly.” The ten-year period since 2000 might well conclude in a large Diocesan Convocation in 2010, in which thousands of our Diocesan family might come together to celebrate our response to how God has been gracing us to share in Christ’s mission of building up the Kingdom of God.
I foresee that the thrust of the Synod’s pastoral initiatives might actually guide us through the year 2015. Thus, what was foreseen as a 10-year process might turn out to be a 15-year process. At some point, however, the pastoral plan and priorities of the Diocese will need to be reviewed and updated.
We move now to the altar of sacrifice and we consciously place before the Lord the fruits of our labor of these two years of open Synod and these six years of dedication and careful process. We offer to God our gratitude for the extraordinary outpouring of his Holy Spirit and for the privilege to serve him and our local Church in this manner. We confidently place before God the next few years of continued implementation and ongoing “journeying together in Christ.”
We know that Jesus lovingly receives these fragments of ours and joins them to his own perfect offering on the cross, and that all is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, a perfect sacrifice of praise to the Father. But we have equal confidence that, through his Holy Spirit, Christ continues his saving work to transform us. Thus, we pray in the Third Eucharistic Prayer: “make us an everlasting gift to you and enable us to share the inheritance of your saints.”
As we conclude the Synod, we go forward on mission, unafraid. Our concerted efforts to implement the vision and pastoral priorities of the Third Diocesan Synod is God’s work. We are God’s instruments. Christ himself, who summons us “to put out into the deep” on the sometimes turbulent sea of our diocesan life, repeatedly assures us, “Be not afraid.”
The mighty wind of the Spirit will continue to blow, even if at times we cannot easily discern it, yet accept it in faith. We are in an ongoing time of Pentecost. Let us continue to unfurl the sails of our special spiritual graces and gifts to catch it and run before it to the safe haven already prepared for us. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love: Lord, send forth your Spirit and we shall be created; and you will renew the face of the earth.”