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Humbly Walking Together

Shortly before my installation as the bishop of Spokane in 2015, I was faced with a crucial decision: Father McNeese, the rector of Bishop White Seminary, was retiring, and I needed to appoint a successor. My experiences as vocation director and seminary rector taught me that the appointment of a rector for a seminary is one of the most important decisions the bishop will make in his time serving God’s people in a particular diocese. At the time, I did not know all the priests as well as I do now. And, because the appointment was so important, it was suggested to me that I ask for suggestions from the priests as to who among their brothers they felt might have the qualities necessary to lead a college seminary.

After receiving feedback from the priests and hearing several names put forth, I chose Father Daniel Barnett. After my decision, I heard one of the priests of the diocese say that in all his years as a priest, a bishop had never asked his opinion on anything until then. I’m glad I did ask for advice, though I can’t take credit for consulting the entire presbyterate, as the suggestion to hire Father Barnett was made to me. However, I’m grateful that all the priests had an opportunity to share their wisdom and advice. They obviously felt their voices had been heard when they were invited to make suggestions. It seems to me that this is what is behind Pope Francis’ decision to initiate a worldwide consultation process, known as a synod.

The pope’s goal of a worldwide synod is to give the entire people of God (not just a few advisers) the opportunity to share insights, hopes, and dreams for Christ’s Church. The Holy See has published a handbook which will be used here in the diocese as the faithful are invited to share their goals, thoughts, and opinions regarding the life of the Church. It’s interesting to note that the handbook contains a particular phrase that is repeated over and over again: the entire people of God.

The mission of the Church requires the entire people of God be on a journey together, with each member playing his or her crucial role.

You might say Pope Francis wants this consultation to extend beyond the usual suspects. All too often, the loudest or most prominent voices in the Church come from those who are in leadership, academia, or media. All their opinions are still welcome, but my sense is we already know what they think.

Now, the entire Church, the entire people of God, are asked to play a part in discerning the will of the Holy Spirit for the Church.

As we near Christmas, the question of synodality may seem an abstraction. And yet, as we gather around the Christ Child in the crèche this Christmas and around the risen Lord in the Eucharist, we should also ask: “How is Christ acting within the Church now?” We remember at his ascension into heaven Jesus promised he would send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to be with the Church. What does the Holy Spirit ask of the Church today? How is the Holy Spirit acting in your life, in the life of your family, in the life of your parish, in the diocese and the universal Church?

These are not easy questions, but reflecting on the will of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit are what we are called to do and what St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother did more than 2,000 years ago. They were attentive to the will of God. Let us also be attentive.

Merry Christmas and God bless!