Almost two weeks ago, Pope Francis convened the Synod of Bishops which is a consultative body that advises the pope on a variety of issues. This is a relatively new institution within the Church hierarchy and was created by Pope St. Paul VI after Vatican II (no coincidence that Paul VI was canonized during this Synod). The theme for this Synod is “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Representatives are elected from bishops’ conferences around the world and sent to Rome to participate. Representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) are 6 bishops, among them Cardinal DiNardo from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Non-ordained participants are also chosen from various countries, and Briana Santiago ’13 and Cherise Klekar ’15 are representing Aggieland!
The Synod participants will meet for most of October to discuss various issues facing young people (in the Church, that means people from ages 16-29). Bishops and observers are sometimes asked to give a “witness” relating to the topic at hand. You can read Briana’s witness here. To follow the activities of the Synod, the USCCB will be posting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram throughout the Synod during the month of October. Follow them at @USCCB, and hashtag #Synod2018. Catholic News Service will also be reporting (see their coverage), as will other collaborators and media outlets.
Bishop David Konderla has led the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, since June 29, 2016. Prior to his episcopal ordination he was director of one of America’s most successful campus ministries, at Texas A& M University in College Station, Texas. Under a series of dynamic pastors, “Aggie Catholics” have produced more religious and priestly vocations in the past twenty-five years than the University of Notre Dame, in addition to forming hundreds of young Catholic families who embody the New Evangelization. LETTERS TO THE SYNOD invited Bishop Konderla to make a testimony to Synod-2018, and he responded with the following open letter to his brother bishops. XR II
Lessons for the Shepherd from the Sheep
I spent fourteen of my twenty-three years in ordained ministry, as a priest and now a bishop, serving as a campus minister with the Aggies, the students at Texas A&M University. As I was leaving the university, I told the students that if I was now prepared to be a bishop, it was because they had taught me to be a pastor. Leading young people to choose to give their lives to Jesus Christ is not one of the things shepherds must do. It is the only thing. That is because it cannot happen passively, and because the Church and everything that is true about the Church exists for this purpose. It is, after all, his Church, his Body. The man or woman who exchanges his or her life for Jesus Christ has everything they need to live. Indeed, they have life itself. Here are some lessons that I learned from my students, which I hope may prove valuable for the bishops meeting in the Synod on “Youth, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
Personal prayer is the heart of life in Christ.
The most stirring sight on the Texas A&M campus was the flow of students into and out of the adoration chapel. It began with students standing around, waiting for the chapel to open at 7 a.m., and it ended with the final group of students leaving the chapel at 11 p.m. They came to be fed so they could go on campus and witness to others that life in Christ is light and joy and available for everyone.
Bishops are professional prayers, meaning that bishops are constantly leading people in prayer. For that reason, bishops must have some time each day when they go to the Lord, by themselves, and for no other purpose than to renew their own choice of life in Christ and renew the love and the strength to witness that life to others.
Repentance is the path to prayer.
An observation: There was a definite correlation between the young people you could find in the chapel praying and those you could find in the chapel waiting in line for confession. That is because sin is a reality for every disciple of Jesus Christ, and the closer one draws to the Lord the more aware one becomes of sin and of Jesus as the source of forgiveness and peace. The more we feel the healing love and power of the Lord, the more we want to spend time in his presence in prayer. Bishops are sinners. Confession is even more necessary for the bishop because of his greater responsibilities, which bring opportunities to sin through pride and arrogance.
Unity is not the goal of the Church; truth is the goal of the Church.
Unity happens when we commit ourselves to the true and the good. The students with the best questions were often those who were farthest from the Church. That is because they were wrestling with the truth and desiring unity with the truth. It was the truth that was drawing them closer to Christ and his Church. And once they found unity in the truth, they became the best evangelizers of their peers. If, desiring unity, the bishop stops teaching the truth, he loses both unity and truth: for himself, and those he is called to shepherd.
Only light has substance, darkness is the absence of light.
Sin is associated with darkness, and rightly so because sin is the absence of grace. Young people are not afraid to hear about sin in preaching and we should not be afraid to preach about sin; but we should not focus on it either. Focus on the light—the true, the good, and the beautiful—and people will see in contrast how ugly and undesirable sin is.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is our friend.
Young people live in a world that often divides itself into left and right, liberal or conservative. Many, especially in the media, try to divide the Church this way as well. But the gift of the Catechism gives us a path to unity, a way to avoid such divides by living fully the Word of God: For there we find the Scriptures, and the teaching of the saints, and the wisdom of the Church. As bishops, the Catechism is a measure for us and, if needed, a corrective for our teaching.
The good, the bad, and the sacred.
Winning football is good, laughter among friends is good, eating pizza is good, frisbee golf is good, but sex does not belong on this list.
Sex is not bad, either. It does not belong on the list with flat tires, lima beans, studying all night for exams, or 8 a.m. classes.
Sex is sacred. It belongs on the list with marriage, with prayer, with the birth of a baby, and union with God. For that reason it is reserved to marriage and to use it outside of marriage is akin to a sacrilege. Just as we would never consume the Eucharist with peanut butter as if it were a cracker, we ought never use sex outside the covenant of marriage as if it were a hug between friends.
Sex is also true. God created us male and female. The growing list of acronyms that claims to represent how some humans are made is in fact only naming conditions that some humans have. What we are is male and female. And the reason God created us male and female was so that there could be marriage. Only by creating two persons whose differences were designed for union together could he create two persons who could become one, and in that becoming give life to others. Marriage is a special kind of friendship but not the only kind of friendship, and the joy of every kind of friendship is the gift from a loving God to every person.
The counterfeits for sex and marriage and friendship, on the campus and in today’s world, are many and confusing. Young people know this, and that is why they have such an interest in these subjects and a right to hear the wisdom of the Church. Among the great treasures of the Church that bishops have to offer to the world and young people is the true meaning and appreciation of sex and marriage and friendships.
Hearing the Sheep
In listening to the voices of the youth of the world, should the shepherds listen to the good sheep or the bad sheep? None are good, only Christ. All others have sinned. But some are grazing on the green pastures of Christ and his Church and living. They are calling out directions to their brothers and sisters. Others are still searching and they are calling out hungry.
As shepherds, it is up to us to amplify the call of those who have found Jesus Christ and his Church, so the ones still searching can hear and feed and live.
Kevin graduated in 2010 from Texas A&M with a degree in History and he went on to earn his theology degree from the University of St. Thomas. He serves at St. Mary’s as a Campus Minister and our Director of our RCIA. He and his wife Morgan have three children and live in College Station.