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Curing the ‘mischief’ through synodality

Q: Archbishop J, what is the mischief that Pope Francis hopes to correct with synodality?

In English Law, the Mischief Rule is one of three rules of interpretation—the Literal Rule and the Golden Rule are the other two.

The Mischief Rule is used to understand the exact nature of the “mischief” that a law or statute wants to correct or remedy. This, then, guides the court to know how to suppress the mischief through the interpretation of the law.

To understand the mischief, the court tries to determine: (a) what existed before the law or initiative: what was wrong with it; and (b) how did the lawmakers intend to correct the mischief. This finding is then applied to the statute to drive at a correct interpretation.
Pope Francis has embarked on a systemic change in the Catholic eco-system—synodality. First, what is the mischief he wants to solve with synodality? For that, we need to understand what existed before this call to synodality and what was wrong with the eco-system as it existed.

Then, we could begin to understand how Pope Francis intends to correct this and, ultimately, apply this to synodality and the vision of Church it inspires.

What existed before this call to synodality?
This question can be answered in many ways. But I will be led by some quotes of Pope Francis on synodality: “To hold a ‘synod’ means to walk together. I think this is truly the most wonderful experience we can have: to belong to a people walking, journeying through history together with their Lord who walks among us!

“We aren’t alone; we do not walk alone. We are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together” (Pope Francis, Francis of Assisi, October 4, 2013).
A lot of the pontiff’s description focuses on the togetherness or communion of the members of Christ’s body as they walk or journey together through history. From this, we can see that at least part of the mischief is the fractures within the body of Christ as members compete, and belittle, and even destroy one other.

As civilisation becomes more fractured along the fault line of political ideology, we see, in some countries, the Church fracturing that way also. In Trinidad and Tobago, we see the fault line running along the class, race, and gender ideology.

The Church is recognised as Christians journeying together, as St Paul says in Ephesians 4:4–6: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Divisions in the Body of Christ are a great scandal that prevent the Church from accomplishing her mission. In his farewell discourse, Jesus warns that the world will believe only if the Christian is united in the way that the Father and the Son are united (Jn 17:21).

Consider the family, the parish, the archdiocese: are we living the unity that Jesus intended? This is part of the mischief that Pope Francis wants to correct with synodality.
The expectation here is that by journeying together, walking in harmony, speaking openly about the contentious issues, and listening carefully for the voice of the Holy Spirit, the Church will be transformed (Acts 15: 1–21).

What was wrong with the eco-system as it existed?
The International Theological Commission, in the document Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church gives a working definition of synodality: “the specific way of life and habit of working of the Church—the People of God—which reveals and gives substance to her being as communion when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelising mission”.
From this statement we can see the mischief the Holy Father is attempting to correct even clearer. I want to highlight four key phrases (1) Way of life and habit of working—spirituality; (2) The People of God—ecclesiology; (3) Being as communion—the true nature of the church; and (4) Evangelising/ mission—her reason for existence.

Spirituality: From this working definition, we can see that if Pope Francis gets his way and the Church at every level—from the domestic to the universal—journeys together, an overhaul of our operating habits, with a deeper focus on communion will follow. This is a major overhaul that is vital for the Church.
Many Catholics feel a disconnect between the Sunday experience and the rest of the week. Synodality reconnects the disciple in the everydayness of his or her life. Listening, as an essential part of discipleship, reconnects the Christian with the minimum requirement of love —paying attention to one another in things little and big.

The disciple is invited to practice this active listening throughout the day. Through active listening the individual is invited to listen both to neighbour and to God who is always present to us.
“The spirituality for synodality gives form to the amazing discovery of the hidden energies of love, self-commitment, generosity and sharing that lie within us, sometimes unattended and forgotten: a sort of ‘dowry’ received in baptism but often neglected” (Towards a Spirituality for Synodality, Commission on Spirituality Sub-Group, p 7)

Ecclesiology: The definition calls the Church the “People of God”. This is a rich model of Church, a fruit of the second Vatican Council.

Looking at the council and its models of Church, theological expert on Vatican II Henri de Lubac SJ said: “The Constitution Lumen Gentium speaks to us of the Church, first of all, as a mystery, a gift of God, a reality that does not come from man. Those who are members of this Church form the People of God, walking towards the Eternal City. All within her are called to holiness” (The Church: Paradox and Mystery).
By invoking “People of God” and “journeying together”, the Holy Father is reaffirming the universal call to holiness of this pilgrim people. He is also reaffirming that her mission arises from “the universal salvific design to bring all people to Christ”.

Key Message: By focusing on synodality, the Holy Father wants to cure the mischief of secularism, individualism, and divisions that it has brought, and replace it with the authentic Catholic spirituality of listening, love, and discernment. To reinforce this, he invokes the model of Church as a People of God, reminding us of our destination and the universal call to holiness.

Action Step: Meditate on how deeply you have been caught up in the “mischief”.

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:1–7