Homily: Mass for Archdiocesan Synod

Bishop Knestout presents Synod documents to Cardinal Wuerl.

It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost.  While it is true that the Pentecost we commemorate today happened almost 2,000 years ago, what we are celebrating is the continuing outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church – on you and me today.

At that first Pentecost there were audible and visible signs of the great spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Acts of the Apostles speaks about “a noise like a strong driving wind” and then “tongues as of fire which parted and came to rest on each of them.”  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit continues today.  The manifestation of it is seen with different signs.

In every baptism I remind all of us as we stand around the baptismal font that what we will see and hear are the pouring of water and the announcement of the baptismal formula.  But what is actually happening is a far more powerful spiritual reality – the washing away of original sin, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the incorporation of the person into the body of Christ the Church.  To recognize all of this, one has to see with the eyes of faith and hear with a heart of belief.

That was true at the first Pentecost.  It was only because Jesus had already told the Apostles that the Spirit would come upon them that they were able, in the sounds and sights of that glorious day, to recognize the Holy Spirit.  Today we too are asked to see with the eyes of faith and listen with the heart of belief to the Spirit at work in this great archdiocesan Church.

This Pentecost the Archdiocese of Washington experiences a unique moment in its history.  Gathered in this cathedral are laywomen and laymen, religious, deacons, priests and the bishops of this local Church as we conclude two years of work that has been a part of our first Archdiocesan Synod.  We see and hear in this ecclesial event the action of a new Pentecost – of the grace of that first original Pentecost – the ever-new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

What we celebrate is called a synod.  This the Church defines as a gathering of laity, religious and clergy reflective of the local Church to review the efforts of the Church to carry out the ministry entrusted to it by Christ.

If we have become timid as the Apostles are described in the Acts of the Apostles before the coming of the Holy Spirit, then the synod is to help us become bold in our proclamation of the faith just as the outpouring of the Spirit changed the Apostles and charged them with courage and boldness in bearing witness to the faith.

Our Archdiocesan Synod has been a time to take stock, with honesty and humility, of the condition of our spiritual home, particularly in the key areas of Worship, Education, Community, Service, and Stewardship and Administration.  In this prayerful process, input from the faithful was gathered with the goal of providing concrete direction so that we can better prepare ourselves to carry forward the work of the Church into the future.

The spiritual and pastoral priorities of our local Church have been examined to establish stable reference points for ecclesial life and practice, particularly so that the New Evangelization might permeate every aspect of the life of our Church.  In addition, existing policies have been reviewed and, where necessary, updated.

In October 2011, I raised the possibility of an Archdiocesan Synod and there was an enthusiastically positive response from archdiocesan leadership, the Priest Council and our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.  And so it was that during Lent of 2012 we began to meet with those who were identified as ex officio members by Church law and with laywomen and laymen chosen from across the parishes of the archdiocese.

Since this gathering of our faith community would coincide with the 75th anniversary of the archdiocese this very year, it serves as an opportunity to hear from the faithful on the condition of our Church.  It seems all the more appropriate to use our 75th anniversary as a marker along the way of the Church to take stock of where we are and where we need to be in order to fulfill our mission to bring the good news of the saving love and liberating truth of Jesus Christ to the world.

Between September 2012 and May 2014 the more than 200 members of the synod, most of whom are gathered here today, created a process to reflect upon input from the faithful.  Then began the task of analyzing the more than 15,000 suggestions offered by Catholics through parish and regional listening sessions as well as an online survey.

As I attended those sessions I was edified to see that all of the working committees were as diverse geographically and ethnically as is this great archdiocese and that lawwomen and laymen, consecrated and ordained persons all worked together to offer a comprehensive reflection of the needs and desires of this Church.  The last of those long working sessions concluded on May 10, 2014 when all of the participants responded with unanimous support and consensus for everything that had been produced.

With the help of God we have accomplished what we set out to do.  The various recommendations have been submitted following the deliberation of the Synod members.  The statutes have been approved and promulgated.  The Synod now celebrates the conclusion of its work on this, the Solemnity of Pentecost 2014.

But the conclusion of our Synod is not so much an ending as it is a new beginning. This renewal of faith and fervor in our spiritual family is not meant to be a one-time event for the history books.  Rather it has the purpose of forming, informing and directing the mission and life in the Spirit of our local Church into the future.

It urges us to continue to manifest the kingdom of God in our community – bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so in need of healing, solidarity, justice and peace.  We renew our commitment to be a light to those who struggle in darkness, and to build up the common good in a culture of life, solidarity and fraternity.  This holy assembly provides us direction as we, a pilgrim people, continue our heavenly journey accompanied by God and the saints.

What Saint John XXIII envisioned in calling the Second Vatican Council was a new Pentecost, a renewal of faith in the life of the Church and a lively apostolic fervor in spreading the Gospel. Likewise, the time of our Archdiocesan Synod has been a new beginning of renewal in the life of faith. With our hearts revived and transformed by Jesus, with the new life of the Spirit within us, every day going forward in our local Church should be as a new Pentecost.

In our Archdiocesan Synod we should see a reflection of the challenge of Saint John Paul II to open wide our hearts to Christ and to be not afraid as we welcome Christ into our lives and accept him as the norm of our actions.

This first Synod of the Archdiocese of Washington belongs to all of us.  In our spiritual family of faith, we all share the responsibility for the life and mission of the Church, including this Synod, each according to his or her gifts and role.

As we reflect upon the effort and fruit of our Archdiocesan Synod, it is appropriate to thank all of those who generously gave of their time and talents toward this undertaking.  The labors of all those who participated, from its conception to its conclusion, enabled the sessions to be productive.  Your active participation in this ecclesial enterprise was a major factor in the success of this significant moment in the life of the Church of Washington.  Finally, I express my gratitude to all the members of this local Church who by their prayers and words of encouragement provided spiritual sustenance for the work of the Synod.

When Jesus spoke, particularly in his farewell discourse, of the Holy Spirit, while it was clear that the Apostles grasped something of the distinctive quality of the Spirit, the full impact of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, on the Church, was not felt until Pentecost.  Even after the Resurrection the Apostles remained timid, frightened and unsure of themselves and the message that they were to proclaim.  All that changed with Pentecost.

What is so striking in the change in each of the Apostles after the outpouring of the Spirit is that these timid, unsure, reluctant men became bold, confident, courageous witnesses of all that Jesus had taught them.

This is the power of the Spirit at work.  Poured into the heart of each believer in baptism and confirmation, the Spirit comes to make us a new creation.  What is purely temporal, tied to this earth and limited to the confines of the flesh, gives way to a new fullness and richness that can only be described as a new life, the life of God welling up within us.  If it is nurtured and cared for, that new life will know no end.

This glorious transformation in the power of the Holy Spirit is what the Church commemorates at Pentecost; what the Church celebrates in the continuing       new Pentecosts that are a part of the life of the Church, and what we proclaim today in our Synod of the Church of Washington.

Pentecost is an occasion to thank God for an outpouring of the Spirit that has touched this Church in a real and visible way.  We pray that God continue to bless our efforts as a family of faith so that we can manifest as fully as possible the kingdom of God here and now. May what we do now and in the future hasten the realization of our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come.”