Networking is a word that was coined in the late 1960s. Long before the internet, it came to be understood as the process by which people made mutually profitable connections, mainly to advance job opportunities and business associations. It happens formally and informally, at conventions and dinners, where people exchange business cards or phone contacts hoping to benefit from one another’s experiences and resources.

Information technology soon co-opted the term, first just to mean computer connections, but now implying a growing number of internet prospects from telemarketing and web conferencing to distance learning and viral marketing with advertising through social networks. In recent years, alarms have been raised over the intrusive nature of googling operations that collect every conceivable data bit from often unsuspecting users in order to target them for commercial or mercenary purposes. 

Without suggesting that Church organizations join in the excesses of such data-banking, there may be something we can learn from these developments. All of us have something to gain from sharing one another’s stories of faith and struggle and how we have encountered the presence of God through our trials and tribulations.

Last month I had the graced opportunity to participate in a “Catholic Partnership Summit” of leaders — clergy, religious and laity — hosted by the Leadership Roundtable Feb. 1-2 in Washington, D.C. We discussed, shared and strategized on how to address the twin crises of abuse and leadership. It was what might be called an experience in “spiritual networking.”

The summit modeled clergy-laity collaboration, identified best practices, and created actionable recommendations for Church leaders nationwide to address the current crises. You may read much more on the website: leadershiproundtable.org.

This is only one example of what Pope Francis calls “synodality,” whereby we are building and exercising a new culture of leadership on all levels that is transparent, accountable and co-responsible. It is firmly rooted in an ecclesiology, or “vision of the Church,” that affirms the various gifts and functions of all members of the Body of Christ, without exception. 

The Gospel of St. John and the Epistles of St. Paul inspire us to discover how the risen Christ accomplishes his saving works through us and in us. At least 27 gifts are listed in Scripture references (Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) covering a broad range, from prophecy and healing to mercy, teaching, almsgiving (philanthropy), perseverance, joy, encouragement, hospitality, administration and leadership.

One of the most effective ways of growing in the faith and evangelizing one another is to share our personal experiences of sin and conversion, how our trials and struggles in life have led us to seek God’s help and how time and again his grace saves us from our sorry aspirations of self-redemption. God uses everything, if we will just “give God permission,” as Mother Teresa often said. 

Lent is an excellent opportunity to “let go and let God.” At its outset many of us may be asking ourselves, “What am I going to do for Lent?” A better question might be, “What will I let God do in me and through me?” — how will I follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, who led Jesus himself into the desert for 40 days and nights, which is the model for our Lenten journey.

The penitential discipline of this season of grace is meant to lead us to a change of heart or “conversion,” to turn away from sinful practices and to believe the Good News. As the ashen crosses imposed on our foreheads reminded us, our bodies and all material attachments will all pass away. Cardinal George, the late Archbishop of Chicago, often said the only thing that we will take with us when we die is what we have given away.

Making connections is always a give and a take. The “spiritual networking” which I have suggested we engage in might lead us into a desert with a cacophony of voices, within and around us, contrary to the one “crying in the wilderness” which first demands that we listen. 

Listening to our neighbor’s story or plight is the first step for making the healing connections that build true communion. The actions of mutual listening and sharing of experience will require the confession of sin and a call for a generous giving of time, talent and treasure. They will also make of our parish families havens of safety, places of refuge for all who have felt marginalized or even condemned by past failures, attitudes or abuses too numerous to name here.

Everyone has a story. Everyone needs a companion along the road to Calvary. Lent is a graced time for us to walk together with The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, who promises that where two or three are gathered in his name, he will always be there, in our midst.

 facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd
 @AlbBishopEd