This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend one of the Archdiocese’s Listening Sessions for their Synod. Yes, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, like the Amazon, is having a Synod. It will last from the Fall of 2019 and conclude in the Summer of 2021. These listening sessions are hosted at parishes throughout the Archdiocese. They are supposed to help gather feedback from the laity and help guide Archbishop Bernard Hebda on what direction he should take the Archdiocese.
Having spent the better part of a Saturday morning at one of these sessions, I thought it would be essential to discuss what I witnessed. There were many things that I saw that were alarming, as to be expected, but there were other things I observed that do give some hope.
Why A Synod?
Why is Archbishop Hebda even calling for a Synod? The primary reason, as stated in a letter that can be viewed on the website is that the Archdiocese has recently filed for bankruptcy. There is no mention as to why the Archdiocese is bankrupt, but it’s pretty apparent what the primary reason is.
Archbishop Hebda invites all Catholics from the Archdiocese, both faithful Catholics who frequent the Sacraments and those Catholics who haven’t been to church in some time. Archbishop Hebda wants to hear from everyone.
This is how the Synod is set-up. There will be 20 Listening Sessions that parishes throughout the Archdiocese are hosting between September 2019 through March 2020. There will be more events after these Listening Sessions, but all information is on the Synod’s website.
The listening sessions are split into three parts. The first part is comprised of speeches by both Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Archbishop Hebda, as well as some guided Lectio Divina. The second part is a series of small group discussions in which you sit at a table and discuss things that are going well in the Archdiocese and things that are not. The third and final part is being able to address Archbishop Hebda with what you feel is going well and what can be improved upon.
Speeches and Lectio Divina in the Sanctuary
If I had to guess, there were easily 200 people in attendance. The day began with several speeches from members of the Archdiocese as well as from Bishop Cozzens and Archbishop Hebda. There was also some guided Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina, if you are unaware, is a form of prayer where you slowly read scripture and contemplate what strikes out to you and reflect upon it.
This was all done within the Sanctuary of the church. Bishop Cozzens addressed that this was intentionally done because they wanted Jesus to be present during these discussions.
After some talking points about the need to pray in silence, a good portion of the actual prayer time was accompanied by some lovely piano with soloist song leading. There was even some “transition music” while participants were instructed to move from the Sanctuary to the gathering space.
After all of the piano accompanied prayer, we were instructed to break into small groups at tables that were placed in the gathering space and the basement. This is where everyone would have a different experience, so I can only speak of what happened at my table.
Our first task was to choose a facilitator. I volunteered when it became evident that no one else wanted to facilitate. The facilitator’s job was to make sure everyone got to speak if they wanted to. It was also to make sure that no debates occurred because we are there to present our viewpoints.
To be completely honest, my table ended up not being awful, and it was not as bad as I had initially feared it could be. There were supposedly 28 members from St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis, infamously known in this Archdiocese as the most liberal parish present. Fortunately, none of them were at my table.
There was a common theme of sentiments at our table. Within our area of the Archdiocese, there are frequent confession times, plenty of opportunities to visit Jesus in Adoration, and we all go to parishes that have a focus on the Eucharist.
However, our table also agreed that there needed to be more done in regards to reverence, specifically with regards to reinstating the traditional Latin rites, ahem. There were a lot of older members at the table who wished that more would be done with regards to keeping young Catholics (high-school and college-aged) engaged and active within the faith.
Overall, this was an enjoyable part of the day, seeing that like-minded Catholics are thirsting for tradition in their parishes and the Archdiocese. In fact, two of the people at my table were Lutheran converts who came into the Catholic Church because they wanted more tradition and Jesus in the Eucharist. I imagine though, had some of the liberals been at my table, it would not have been as enjoyable.
Addressing the Archbishop
The final portion of the morning was the opportunity to address Archbishop Hebda at a microphone. People were chosen randomly to address him. This was determined by the number that was given to you on your name tag at the table discussion.
This was undoubtedly the most interesting portion of the day. It was frustrating, angering, but also encouraging.
It was frustrating because many people gave naive recommendations. These comments included the need for more Young Adult activities and tools to keep the college students within the faith. Having a strong relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist is the answer to that, especially a relationship that the Church encouraged for centuries within the traditional devotions and practices of our faith.
It was angering because several demonstrated their hatred for the family. One woman had the audacity to tell the Archbishop that families with young children should be encouraged to leave Mass immediately and go to the gathering space once the child starts making any noise. She also thought the “services” should be shorter, homilies shortened, and we needed to be more welcoming to homosexuals because, of course, she did. This lady was actually booed by some people within the audience, rightfully so. Children cry and should still be welcomed at Mass, but obviously, there are times when you should remove them. For example, my baby girl who is 10 months is currently in a fit of joyful shrills, which, yeah, we do remove her when she starts to near peak volume.
It was hopeful because a few brave souls did get up and asked that the Archdiocese stop making our liturgies and liturgical events Protestant (yes, they actually used that word). There was also a strong sense that we need to have a focus on Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist everywhere, as well as a need for reverence. One college-aged young man specifically said that he didn’t want more programs, but more traditional Masses, adoration, and deep faith formation.
Signs of Hope in the Archdiocese
As stated multiple times already, many people believe in Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. These people also have a desire for tradition and reverence, and likely, given time, would welcome the traditional aspects of our faith if they were exposed to them.
There were several points made to the Archbishop by a dad about home-schooling and the general need for the diocese to understand better and accommodate home-schooling families. He emphasized specifically the concern around the education and catechesis the children are receiving to prepare them for receiving the sacraments. Many people expressed their gratitude for the availability of the sacraments, specifically confession, and Eucharistic Adoration in this area of the Archdiocese. One participant expressed a strong desire to see the Latin Rite restored in the Archdiocese, as well as allowing young children to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation so the Holy Spirit can begin working in them earlier.
Signs of Sadness in the Archdiocese
Common themes arose for where people within the Archdiocese believe we should go to improve things.
- Many people did not show signs of reverence. Much of this event took place within the Church sanctuary, yet very few people genuflected, blessed themselves with holy water, or composed themselves as if they were in a Church.
- The laity believes the Church should do all of the teaching of the faith and they should not have to do any of their own research/homework.
- Pope Francis is the only Pope and the Second Vatican Council is the only council we’ve ever had.
- Many of the attendees were over the age of 50. So the failed ideas that have partially gotten us into this position are the same ideas being presented…again.
The saddest part of this entire affair is that only one person brought up the elephant in the room. The biggest reason that we are in this mess is the lack of accountability of our clergy. One person mentioned the sex abuse crisis, and he was a victim of it. He read a prayer he wrote asking God for healing for the victimized, forgiveness to the predators, and protection for our clergy. It is a beautiful prayer, and he is a brave soul for going up and speaking as candidly as he did.
To reiterate, the reason for having this Synod is because the Archdiocese is bankrupt. Why is the Archdiocese bankrupt? Because of the sex abuse scandal within the Archdiocese. Yet, there is zero mention of the scandal (except for the gentleman as mentioned earlier). It is predictably glossed over as if the reason we are bankrupt is that no Catholics are giving to the Archdiocese.
Meanwhile, our Shepherds tell us to be respectful to these ideas that are different than ours (read: not Catholic) and reiterate Church teaching to these people. In short, do the job of the bishop!
Our Shepherds let the wolves into the pen to attack the sheep and tell them to defend themselves because they have other priorities. Our Shepherds do not know their role. They do not believe that they are to lay down their lives for us but to oversee the sheep as a commercial commodity.
Overall, there was a lack of reverence for Jesus. Many walked within the Sanctuary as if it was a stage. Those who led the Lectio Divina readings did bow, but few people genuflected. Now, I will give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps these individuals were nervous about messing up, but it does demonstrate a lack of awareness about the meaning and purpose of the Sanctuary.
Another thing that was disconcerting was the number of women that were chosen to lead the readings of the Lectio Divina scriptures. Not only were both bishops in attendance, but there were also many priests and a few deacons present. For an activity that should be prayerful, it should have been led by a member of the clergy. It confuses the role of the priest, who does have a hierarchical authority over leading the laity in prayer, as just someone who administers the sacraments and oversees a parish.
It is unclear whether or not the Archdiocese will lead the faithful to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is something we should pray for. It is also too early to tell whether this Synod will bare any positive fruit. It seems unwise to ask those who don’t follow Christ for ideas on how to better follow Him. If you don’t ask misbehaved children how to parent better, then you don’t ask disengaged Catholics what the Church needs to do to cater to them.
I remain unconvinced that this Synod will address the actual needs and concerns of the Church in her current crisis. I am convinced that those of us who live within the Archdiocese should attend these sessions.
For those of us who want to see tradition restored in the Latin Rite, we should attend to voice that. It may fall on deaf ears, it might not. But there may be other people attending who may be open to tradition, or entirely on board. By voicing our opinion, we inspire them, and perhaps they will encourage their friends and their priest. By being there, we might encourage other priests who are in attendance.
As of this writing, there are still 18 of these listening sessions being hosted. I highly encourage you to attend one or more of them if you are able.
Mary, Queen of the Church, pray for us.