As the month of October brings Respect Life Month, World Mission Sunday and the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, I have been reflecting on the common dignity of all people and the mission of the baptized. I am drawn particularly to the reality that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God with an inherent dignity that can never be taken away. If we stop and rest in the Lord, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we will find that we have been called to be in eternal union with God and in communion with one another.
This brings my thoughts to the ecclesiology of who we are as the church. Considering the nature of the Christian faithful, our ecclesiology underscores how the church is a communion of persons consciously in relationship with each other in response to God. The faithful are affected by this relationship as it is essential to the church as communion. This is the same communion as expressed by Christ in the Gospel, “…so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).
Baptism into the church is not just a singular experience between the individual and Christ. There should also be an authentic bond of fellowship among us. After all, it is through the sacraments of initiation that we are all one in Christ without distinction. So, while there is diversity in our vocations, our works, our ministries and the richness of our charisms, there is also a common dignity and a common mission of the Christian faithful.
As Christ promised that the Spirit would dwell in his disciples, the Christian faithful share in the experience of the indwelling not only of the Spirit, but also of the Son and of the Father. In the Gospel of John, Christ conveys, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).
In “The Teaching Ministry of the Diocesan Bishop,” the U.S. bishops summarized this nature of the people of God as church: “In the creed we affirm our belief in the triune God and the salvific actions attributed to each of the persons of the Trinity. Rooted in this faith, the believer also affirms credo in ecclesiam, that is, a living communion with and commitment to the Church which is the creation of Christ and the Spirit. To ‘believe in the Church’ means to believe that the Holy Spirit is so intimately united with and active in the Church that the living witness to the Gospel of salvation is found there. There is then, an ecclesial dimension essential to Christian faith and church teaching because the Church itself was founded by Christ to proclaim and to live the paschal mystery until he comes in glory” (13).
As we consider the Synod on Synodality which begins this month, let’s remember that synodality accentuates the diversity in our vocations and the richness of our charisms. The Holy Spirit is working through the hearts of each of the Christian faithful as we are “journeying together” with a common mission.
The preparatory document for the upcoming synod reminds the Christian faithful that the synodal journey “is intended to inspire people to dream about the church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission.”
The fundamental question guiding the whole synodal process is: “How does this ‘journeying together,’ which takes place today on different levels – from the local level to the universal one – allow the church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal church?” The faithful are invited to offer our perspectives through broad consultation, taking into account the diversity of our stations in life and the richness of our varied charisms for the good of the whole people of God.
Remember, the Christian faithful’s involvement with the church as a communion of persons consciously in relationship with each another in response to God, highlights the reign of God. This communal dimension reveals that all power and authority come from God, and that the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful are coworkers in God’s beatific work of salvation. By journeying together, and in encountering and accompanying others through this process, we will be able to truly enter into an objective attitude of considering authentically the context of another’s journey toward salvation.
The Diocese of Austin invites the faithful throughout Central Texas to pray for and participate in the diocesan phase of the synodal process. No one should be excluded because every voice should be heard. Pope Francis will formally open the synodal process at the Vatican Oct. 9-10, and Bishop Joe Vásquez will open the synodal process in the Diocese of Austin Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. with a Mass at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin. The diocesan phase of the synodal process will run until April 2022. More information will be forthcoming in parishes, on the diocesan website, and through social media.
DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB, is the director of the Secretariat of Life, Charity and Justice for the Diocese of Austin. Contact him at (512) 949-2471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.