The Pontiff’s intention is to invite the Church to synodal conversion and thus to turn the Church outwards to God’s mission in the world.
Over the last centuries, the Church has been complacent in her missionary zeal. At the family level, in the parish and in the diocese, consistent zeal for God’s mission has been absent. This is the great weakness of the Church; it is also where the Church in our day is not faithful to Christ.
Christ gave His great command: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15–16). This Great Commission is the mandate of the Church. By living this mandate, the Church will be faithful to Christ.
Speaking about the objectives of the synod, the Preparatory Document says:
Thus, a dynamism is activated that allows us to begin to reap some of the fruits of a synodal conversion, which will progressively mature. These are objectives of great importance for the quality of ecclesial life and for accomplishing the mission of evangelisation, in which we all participate by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. Here, we will indicate the main objectives, which define synodality as the form, the style, and the structure of the Church (2).
The Second Vatican Council defined the Church as both hierarchical and collegial. It leaves the two structures side by side (cf 18-19, Lumen Gentium). Peter alone, as the supreme head, can act independently. Peter and the college of apostles can also act together as the highest governing body. This is a paradox. The Church is both hierarchical and collegial.
At the end of the Council, Pope Paul VI established ‘The Synod of Bishops’ as a permanent institution (September 15, 1965) in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
Pope John Paul II referred to the synod as “a particularly fruitful expression and instrument of the collegiality of bishops”. What Pope Francis has done is to include the whole People of God in the synod process. We now move beyond synod as an event, to speak of synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church”. This is a significant shift.
I invite you to meditate on the eight objectives that the Preparatory Document outlines. They move the Church significantly towards participation of the whole People of God, calling this people to unity and ultimately setting them on a path towards mission:
The Church may be both hierarchical and collegial, but Pope Francis intends that in her interiority she will be synodal. She will be a listening Church, inviting all humanity to participate in this sacred mission of God.
The listening extends to all Catholics, to other Christians, to people of other faith traditions and, ultimately, to all people.
This process of synodality is vital for renewal. The document says:
Within this context, synodality represents the main road for the Church, called to renew herself under the action of the Spirit and by listening to the Word. The ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions, in keeping with the mission she has received, depends largely on the decision to initiate processes of listening, dialogue, and community discernment, in which each and every person can participate and contribute (9).
The document goes further to say: “In order to ‘journey together’, we need to let ourselves be educated by the Spirit to a truly synodal mentality, entering with courage and freedom of heart into a conversion process that is indispensable for the ‘continual reformation of which [the Church] always has need, in so far as she is a human institution’” (9).
This is a call to the whole People of God to pastoral conversion. We all need to see people as people, to listen deeply to each person. We need to learn how to listen to the Holy Spirit and to develop a truly “synodal mentality”. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to conversion of heart. From conversion we will be led to mission.