Our celebration of the Archdiocesan Synod, Synod 16, was about 5 ½ years ago. And it was really a watershed moment in the life of our local Church. The grace we received was the move to embrace our vocation as a band of missionary disciples – as Pope Francis says, part of who we are as the church, to be on mission. This grace is bearing much good fruit in our archdiocese. One of the things I’m really very grateful to God for is that I have received word from the Cardinal in Rome who is in charge of the universal synod, to say that our own synodal path is very much what the Holy Father has in mind and hopes for in all the churches throughout the world.
That kind of puts an even bigger stress on me, I will admit, because I interpret my mission, certainly since the celebration of the synod, as being a sort of steward, having a responsibility, a “fiduciary responsibility,” – in quotes – for those abundant graces. And so, for those who are here in the cathedral and for those who might be watching on the livestream, I would like today to give an accounting, at least a brief summation of where I think we stand. And of all the days of the liturgical calendar, this is the right day for us to be thanking God for the Synod and for me speak again about the Synod. Because as you will recall the graces of the Synod are gifts that are given to us precisely because with ardent hearts for over a whole year, we asked God to give us a new Pentecost.
And so, what better day than the Vigil of Pentecost to recur again and to recapitulate, to make our own the grace of the Synod.
It was, then, over 5 ½ years ago that we celebrated the Synod, and I give God thanks that the graces of the synod are still alive, still vibrant in the life of our archdiocese. Even the disruption of COVID, even our shift into Families of Parishes – as time consuming, as important as all of that was, especially as it all meant a disruption of our implementation of the synod through calling a halt to our Missionary Strategic Plans – we have, I believe, kept on target, kept on course, kept moving forward in the light of the synod in response to what we all heard at the synod. We kept our focus. We have not been distracted about whatever new shiny thing came into our lives.
I can attest, we who work in the Curia and the Central Services of the archdiocese have kept our focus on the synod. In the work that we do, serving throughout the archdiocese, we have asked ourselves day in and day out, above all, this question: How are we serving the mandate of the synod? How are we supporting the synod? And especially, we have taken great effort and made great strides to see that the services we offer in the Curia are focused on helping parishes be missionary communities, alive with a zeal for the Gospel.
Our parishes, too, are changing, have changed, and will continue, to change to be bands of missionary disciples. The move into Families, the groupings of parishes, is precisely so, given our decreased resources, we will be able to do the mission, we will be able to proclaim the Gospel to all creatures and as the Lord has commanded us, we will be better equipped to unleash the Gospel. I can, with great thanks to God, report to you that already our Families of Parishes are beginning to develop their own plans for mission; to look at their communities [and] to say, ‘Where are we called to bring the Good News? Who is not hearing that we need to speak to, and to whom we need to proclaim that Christ is Risen and Christ is the Savior and all are called to eternal life in Christ with the Father?’
And I certainly need to mention our schools. We are working very diligently, week after week, month after month, to respond to the mandate of the synod, that our schools, as well, be communities focused on the Gospel and educating our students in our schools so that they can live the Gospel in this world and proclaim it by their example and their word, and so come to receive the reward God has in store for faithful evangelists. No, I do not think we have succumbed to what seemed a danger: that the synod might just be one more program, done for a short time and then put on the shelf. It forms the way for us to integrate new initiatives, such as the Eucharistic Revival that all the dioceses of the United States are engaged in. It forms the context for us to think about and engage in our Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations.
I can, in my responsibility as a steward, say that we have changed our DNA, and it continues to change. Of course, there remains much more to be done, and that is one of the principal gifts offered to us who keep this vigil tonight, this vigil of Pentecost: the gift of prayer, of pleading, of begging; of, as the liturgy says in several places, the gift of imitating Our Lady and the disciples who were in the Upper Room with her. The gift of asking anew for the power of the Holy Spirit, the fire of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And so, we keep vigil, the right attitude of a disciple. To be on watch because Jesus says we know neither the day nor the hour. We are on watch for the gifts of the Spirit.
The Scriptures proclaimed in the Vigil help us identify themes we might incorporate into our prayer. The reading about the Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis is a call to us to ask the Spirit to help us speak one language. The language we all need to speak is the Gospel. The whole people of God, the whole world needs to speak Christ, to speak the mystery, to stand with Christ and give glory to the Father. The whole world, in whatever language [in which] men or women worship, needs say, ‘Through Jesus, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Father.’ That’s the language we need the Holy Spirit to teach us to speak.
The book of Exodus, the reading we heard from the Book of Exodus, gives us an important thing for our prayer, for the gift we should ask for the Holy Spirit to gives us: a renewal of the covenant. In Christ, the covenants that were given in the Old Testament have been fulfilled, and the Church lives in a marriage covenant with Jesus. And we ask the Holy Spirit to help us invite all men and women to espouse themselves to Christ in the Church.
The text we heard from the Prophet Ezekiel, the famous text about the dry bones and whether or not they could live and how they could live – a text most appropriate for us in this time and place because there are so many dry bones in our community. We see them in our neighborhoods, we see them in our community, we see them in ourselves. And we pray for the Spirit of Jesus to descend upon us, so that the dry bones will live as God intends us to live.
The letter to the Romans we heard reminds us that all of these aspirations are not possible of our own strength but are only doable as gifts of the Holy Spirit. What we seek is a new heaven and a new Earth. And there are proud women and men who think they can construct this of their own making and own design. And that’s false. This new heaven and new Earth, the desire for which lies in the heart of every human being, can only be created by Christ in the power of His Spirit. So again, we cry out to the Holy Spirit, ‘come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.’
And why? What is this all for? That’s made clear in the text that we heard from the Gospel of St. John: Jesus’ words about thirsting. There is, in our lives, a great thirst. Everyone thirsts for eternal life. Everyone is born thirsting for meaning; everyone is born thirsting for peace; everyone is born thirsting to be loved and to be able to love. And the Holy Spirit is the only water that can quench that thirst. And so, we ardently pray here in the Eucharist, here in this archdiocese, here all of us, in every parish, in every place, in every heart, that we will be faithful to what the Holy Spirit has done in our Synod and make us instruments, agents of His life, and His transformation of the world, according to the Gospel. And so, our prayer, our longing, our pleading, reaches its culmination in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist. This is our strength. He is our strength. The Holy Spirit comes over your gifts of bread and wine, through my invocation, and transforms them into the living and life-giving Flesh and Blood of Christ, so that when you and I receive the Holy Eucharist, this sacred food, we have the strength of Christ to do the work of Christ. And this sacrifice is always thanksgiving. We say it, the priest does: ‘It is right always and everywhere to give God thanks and praise.’ To give God thanks and praise for what the Holy Spirit has accomplished since that first Pentecost and has done in every new day of Pentecost since then. And following the example of our great boast, as a priest who served in this diocese, Blessed Solanus, we give God thanks ahead of time for what He will do to help us live the inspiration, the call, the summons of Synod 16.
This is the day, this Pentecost, the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice in it and be glad.