As soon as we climbed into the van, dad would lead us in a prayer for a safe journey and off we went. Stops were frequent – petrol top-offs, toilet breaks, roadside cafes, or the need to blow off some steam after an argument. There were the occasional flat tyres or some other mechanical failure that would force us to delay our trip. Sometimes weather events like a blizzard or tornado would force us to turn around and go back home or spend the night in a roadside motel.
We would occupy ourselves by listening to music, playing games, counting state license plates, or just staring out the window at the endless fields of corn and soy beans. As I grew older, my experience changed. I could listen to my own music on my Sony Discman, I interacted less with my family, but I had stronger opinions about where we would stop and what I wanted to eat. When I got my driver’s licence I wanted a turn at driving the family car on the interstate highways. Still, we were all piled into that big old van, one family, together on the road heading toward the same destination.
You may have noticed the slogan the diocese has been using after the 2021 Diocesan Assembly, ‘Together on the Way’. It’s not a clever or gimmicky catchphrase that is trying to sell you on something. Rather, it is simply a description of what we are doing locally, nationally and globally, as well as a definition of the word synodal. These past few years of engaging in the Plenary Council, Diocesan Assembly, and the 2023 Synod feel an awful lot like those family road trips. We’re all piled in together in our various forms of Church family: household, parish, school, community, or agency; diocese, nation, and global church – and we are all heading down the road of synodality.
Like those family road trips, synodality can be messy. There are plenty of obstacles that pop up much like road construction or weather events. Things like the pandemic or war which disrupt the processes of gathering, listening and discerning together. Synodality also means letting the right people lead at the right time, sort of like asking the youngest member of the family to decide where we stop for lunch, or letting someone else drive the car for a while. It’s also about noticing who else is on the road. We can take great comfort knowing that we aren’t the only family taking this trip right now. Every Catholic around the world is invited to go on this journey. Other Christian churches have been doing this much longer and more consistently than we have, they may have something to teach us!
The first leg of this journey has focused primarily on listening, dialogue, and discernment of the needs and challenges facing people in society and the Church. For example, here in the Archdiocese we spent time in consultation, listening and discernment to develop the discussion themes for the 2021 Diocesan Assembly.
At the Assembly more than 450 participants developed 255 recommendations for all of us to consider in our own contexts. The next leg of our journey is about discerning actions and priorities. To that end, parishes, communities, schools and agencies will receive information and tools to assist their communities to review and provide feedback on the Diocesan Assembly recommendations, and to identify the top priorities for one’s own context and develop strategies to address these priorities.
These actions and strategies will be shared at the 2022 Diocesan Assembly in October. The next session of the Plenary Council will also focus on action and legislation. The 2023 Synod, although still a way off, will do something similar.
While it may be tempting at times to avoid the road trip altogether, the reward is in the adventure of the journey. And isn’t it a lot more enjoyable to go together on the way?
Peter Bierer is assistant director, Pastoral Life and MissionJump to next article