As I write, I am on my way to Rome to take part in the monthlong Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.
It is difficult to be away from home for so long, but I am looking forward to spending these days praying and reflecting with Pope Francis on the challenges we face in the evangelization of youth.
There is an ancient expression: “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”
What it means is that Rome is the foundation of the Church, because the bishop of Rome, the pope, is the successor of St. Peter, who is the “rock” that Jesus said he would build his Church upon.
In the mystery of God’s plan for creation, Jesus has sent the Church into the whole world, to the ends of the earth, to continue his mission of proclaiming God’s love and salvation. In this mystery, the pope — whoever he is at any given moment in history — is the Vicar of Christ on earth, to whom we owe filial devotion and service.
St. Catherine of Siena lived in a time of deep corruption in the Church and weakness in the papacy. She did not hesitate to write urgent and blunt letters to the pope, calling him to holiness and courage. Yet still she understood with reverence that he was, as she called him, “sweet Christ on earth.”
We need to deepen this spirit of the saints in our time.
The synod process is a unique reflection of the ties that connect our local Church here in Los Angeles with the universal Church, the worldwide family of God. the Church of the apostles, with the pope as the successor of St. Peter.
“Synod” is a Greek word that indicates a path that we walk together. An early Church Father described the Church as “companions on the journey.”
The Church is one family, gathered from all the nations to the ends of the earth, and all of us together follow Jesus through the course of history, walking with him — lay faithful, clergy and religious, the bishops, and the pope.
In the early days, gatherings of Church leaders came to be called “synods” and “councils.”
In our day, Francis sees the idea of the synod, what he calls “synodality,” as an image to describe how the Church should work.
In the “synodal” vision, the entire family of God takes responsibility for the Church’s life and mission, under the leadership and ministry of the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, and in communion with the pope, as the successor of the apostle, St. Peter.
Jesus established the Church to be led by his apostles and their successors. But the hierarchy of the Church is a hierarchy of service. Jesus said that the apostle — and by extension, the bishop — must consider himself,“last of all and the servant of all.”
All of us — including the bishops — are followers of Christ. We are Christians before we are anything else. In a new document, Francis says that the bishop must be “simultaneously a teacher and a disciple.”
Bishops have the special task of guiding the Church along this path we walk with Jesus. Like the apostles, they are called to teach and sanctify through the sacraments and govern the Church. Again, always in the spirit of being servants of the family of God.
This is what it comes back to — in the Church, we are brothers and sisters, all of us walking together on the path set before us by Jesus Christ, each of us in our own way following his call to become holy and to proclaim his kingdom.
The Christian life really is beautiful and simple. If only we could realize this!
Jesus said that to follow him, we need to love God and love our neighbor. Loving God means living according to his commandments and his plan for our life. It means living as his children and being holy as he is holy.
Loving our neighbor means treating others as Jesus treated them and sharing in his mission of spreading the love of God and building his kingdom on earth. It means being missionaries.
We need to return to this beautiful simplicity, to seeking holiness and being missionaries. Everything in the Church — the sacraments, all our theology and all our ministries — can be understood in light of the call to holiness and evangelization.
All of us in the Church — every baptized man and woman — is called to this task of seeking holiness and bearing witness to Christ in the circumstances of their everyday lives. That is the “spirit” of the synod.
Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you in the Eternal City of Rome.
And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, guide the synod, that we might find new ways to proclaim the gospel to our young people.