Synodality and Oblates in the USA, Part Four


By Jim Allen, OMI, and Harry Winter, OMI

The Synodality  report submitted by Fr. Jim Allen, regarding our Belleville Oblates, and the Synodality report submitted by Fr. Harry Winter, regarding the Diocese of Syracuse, may seem unrelated.  But we are putting them together to show the widespread interest in the Synodality process going on in every religious community and every diocese in the world.

Diocese of Syracuse Report

When I was assisting the ill pastor in my home parish of St. Paul, Norwich, NY, from July 25-Aug. 7, 2022, the diocese published in its newspaper The Catholic Sun, a summary of 42 listening sessions. What caught my attention was the addition of “special listening sessions,” three of which  were “for those who for whatever reason are estranged from the Church, with a particular focus on the LGBTQ Community.” Later in the report, when the top 10 themes were listed, “The LGBTQ Community” was #6. And when this was described, the authors explained “At one of our special listening sessions geared to the LGBTQ Community, several gay people spoke of their experience of being considered ‘possessed’ or ‘mentally ill.’ Their stories were heartbreaking.”

In a meeting with one of my high school classmates, the husband and wife both expressed their concern and bewilderment over a lesbian daughter and daughter-in-law.  This development already presented in “Synodality and  Oblates in the USA, Part Three,” continues to grow.

The report also described “one of the surprises was how quickly and how deeply the people entered into the sacred silence.  For the most part, the people listened carefully and attentively to one another, and seemed to act just as the Holy Father wished:  they spoke freely, boldly , and courageously …and respectfully (with a few exceptions).”

For the entire Syracuse Diocese report, dated July 6, 2022, but not made available until July 24, click here to see it as published by The Catholic Sun.

The Contribution of a Community of Religious Men Toward the Synod

St. Henry’s Oblate Residence, Belleville, IL

On May 26, 2022, 13 of the 18 Missionary Oblates living in this community gathered prayerfully to express their thoughts on the preparatory questions for the Synod of 2023. The questions were adapted to the nature of this community of priests and Brothers , most of whom are retired or in Reduced Active Ministry.

  1. How is “journeying together” happening in this community?

The experience of community life has been a unique experience for each person, depending partially on their ministerial assignments: some have been in small communities; some, in large; some were basically alone for several years.

However, there is general agreement that community life here is a positive source of sharing and mutual support. Given the rather advanced age of most of the members, it has been described as “living while dying, making the best of our time together, aware of our mortality.”

Our shared identity as Oblates of Mary Immaculate affords us the opportunity to learn from one another as we move forward together. The Holy Spirit works differently in each of us and helps us to understand our differences and our gifts.

  • What is there about Jesus that draws me to him? What is there about Jesus that makes an impression on me?
  • Over the years the relationship with Jesus has changed and become more real in various ways.
  • Jesus teaches us by his own life to be more giving than receiving.
  • We can look at the concrete actions of Jesus as examples of how we can touch the lives of others.
  • We also can find images of Jesus in persons who have affected our lives (e.g. a parent or a teacher)
  • Jesus wants to be a constant presence in our lives; one who lives within us.
  • What is there about the Church that draws me closer to the Lord and to other people?

As “cradle Catholics,” it is difficult to imagine a life totally outside of the Church. But the idea and experience of Church has expanded through contact with different peoples and cultures. At the same time, we would find it difficult to experience God without being in contact with other people.

Most of us knew the Church before we even really knew God and Jesus. It was only through maturing in our faith that we began to realize the transcendence of God and the call to be of service to others.

At this point in our lives, given the experiences we have had in many places and with so many people, the Church is anything but an abstraction. We see the Church in the persons we serve, whether they are prospering or struggling.

  •  What are my hopes for the Church that will help to draw me closer to Christ?
  • To see a Church with living saints who live their Catholic faith in such a way that we too can be proud to be Catholic.
  • To see a Church that is willing to look at its way of presenting its moral teaching in a way that attracts and encourages people to walk the path that is sometimes hard. This should include an in depth and fresh look at the relationship between what is considered to be the “natural law” norm and the “lived experience” of people who are also living what they consider to be “natural.” So many people see some aspects of the Church’s moral teaching so stringent and demanding that they either give up or become pathologically scrupulous.
  • Some issues in the Church are not going to go away and they need to be discussed openly and without bias and preconceived answers. Among them stand out such areas as the role of the laity and especially women in the Church; obligatory celibacy of the priests of the Latin Rite; inclusivity, even of sinners (and that’s all of us).
  • How will the Church be present to the world in the face of climate change and a possible collapse of the environment?
  • How can the Church make synodality a normal way of being Church so that this current process not be mere tokenism? Are we going to take the faithful seriously in their own baptized role as “priests, prophets and kings”?
  • We need to meet people where they are and as they are.