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October 19, 2021
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October 19, 2021

Listen to develop a synodal mentality

Q: Archbishop J, what does Pope Francis intend with Synod 2023?

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.

 

Objectives

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:

 

  1. Recalling how the Spirit has guided the Church’s journey through history and, today, calls us to be, together, witnesses of God’s love;
  2. Living a participative and inclusive ecclesial process that offers everyone—especially those who for various reasons find themselves on the margins—the opportunity to express themselves and to be heard in order to contribute to the edification of the People of God;
  3. Recognising and appreciating the wealth and the variety of the gifts and charisms that the Spirit liberally bestows for the good of the community and the benefit of the entire human family;
  4. Exploring participatory ways of exercising responsibility in the proclamation of the gospel and in the effort to build a more beautiful and habitable world;
  5. Examining how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light, and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the gospel;
  6. Accrediting the Christian community as a credible subject and reliable partner in paths of social dialogue, healing, reconciliation, inclusion and participation, the reconstruction of democracy, the promotion of fraternity and social friendship;
  7. Regenerating relationships among members of Christian communities as well as between communities and other social groups, e.g., communities of believers of other denominations and religions, civil society organisations, popular movements, etc.;
  8. Fostering the appreciation and appropriation of the fruits of recent synodal experiences on the universal, regional, national, and local levels.

 

Synodality

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.

 

Key Message:

Pope Francis’ intention is to invite the whole People of God to become a synodal church, patiently listening to the Holy Spirit and one other as we move to a synodal Church, through conversion of heart and onto mission.

Action Step:

Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to prepare us as Church for the listening process, so we may listen more deeply and, through listening, be invited to conversion and mission.

Scripture Reading:

Mk 7:31–37

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