Whether walking together or giving of ourselves, we build up the Church
By Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.
Each year, the Church in the United States observes the month of October as “Respect Life” month. This year, already dedicated to honoring St. Joseph, we are asked to reflect on Joseph’s role in the life of Jesus and his example as one who respects life.
Joseph has no recorded words in the Gospels and his appearances are few, but his impact and example are substantial. It is Matthew who pays more attention to the role of Joseph in the stories about Jesus’ birth. The Annunciation in Matthew’s Gospel comes in a dream to Joseph. Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for the Jewish community, who would have known the story of another Joseph who was a dreamer and eventually saved Israel from famine despite having been sold into slavery by his brothers.
Joseph the betrothed of Mary had to have been devastated by the news that Mary was pregnant; but despite the law’s directive that she should be stoned to death, Joseph wanted to preserve her life and divorce her quietly — until he learned the unbelievable origin of her pregnancy. Then without any of the privileges of fatherhood, even the ability to name his son, Joseph took on all the responsibilities that come with being a father: providing and protecting the family, going into exile with the child Jesus when his life was at stake, teaching Jesus the carpenter’s trade. Luke adds the stories of searching for a site for Mary to give birth to Jesus, leading the family in observance of the law and the painful experience of having lost the child for three days.
As we observe this year’s Respect Life month, I hope we will understand that respect for life is grounded in the dignity of each human person made in the image and likeness of God. We are called to resist a culture that denigrates human dignity and renders human beings “disposable” — whether in the womb or in the midst of a terminal illness.
Our Church has given great emphasis to the need to combat the evil of abortion, and we must continue to do so. It is not only a matter of legislation and court battles, but as our best pro-life advocates know, it is about walking with mothers unprepared to give birth, providing prenatal health care and material support to expecting parents already facing financial hardship and providing the community support that is necessary for the healthy development of a child.
Those who vehemently fight abortion laws but are uninterested in providing basic health care for pregnant mothers or needy children, who are unconcerned about refugee children in crisis or even children lacking quality education in impoverished places with no other hope of escaping poverty cannot really claim to respect life.
The month of October in the beautiful season of autumn is also the time of the Diocesan Annual Appeal. The appeal is how Catholics in our diocese express their support of the Church’s mission, the mission we begin to share in from the time of our baptism. The annual appeal funds parishes and missions in places that are not large enough in number to sustain themselves, and it provides the majority of the budget for Catholic Charities, which assists those who would otherwise fall through the gaps in our community.
It assists with the promotion of vocations and the preparation of men for the priesthood, with expanding our Hispanic ministry and with reaching out to youth and young adults to invite them to discipleship. This collection allows every Catholic to be part of what our Church accomplishes beyond the local parish level. I hope you will read about our formational ministries, including Catholic schools, our advocacy and service ministries and our fundamental work of sustaining eucharistic communities throughout the diocese.
Finally, this October we are invited as a diocesan Church to participate in the universal Church’s synod. The word “synod” has yet to become familiar to most of us, but it refers to the ancient manner of governing the Church by communal discernment about the path forward.
For centuries, Catholics have been accustomed to a top-down form of authority. The Second Vatican Council, among so many other themes for the life of the Church, re-introduced the importance of the synod as a regular structure of the Church and Synods of Bishops have been called periodically to enhance the pope’s understanding of many issues as experienced at the level of the local Church. Pope Francis has really emphasized synodality as a way of being the Church. He calls it “walking together” and insists that the Church has to be a listening church in order to be a teaching church. While the synod convenes a body of bishops from around the world, the upcoming synod will begin in the local churches everywhere.
On Sunday, Oct. 10, Pope Francis will open the synod process for the entire Church; on the following Sunday, Oct. 17, at 11:30 a.m., I will celebrate a Mass to open our diocesan synod at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Following that Mass, I will present an overview of what a synod is and what this process means for us and for the universal Church. I think that the pastoral plan for our diocese will be a foundational document as we proceed with this synodal process and we will take into account the questions and themes that come from Rome and from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference.
This is new for all of us, but expect to hear the word “synod” come up frequently in the near future. Let us indeed “walk together” towards the kingdom.