Q: Archbishop J, what is the mischief that Pope Francis hopes to correct with synodality? (Pt II)
This is such an important idea that I want to complete it and reflect on communion and mission. Remember, 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.
Also remember, 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.
In Part I (CN September 11), we already looked at spirituality and ecclesiology. There we saw that synodality requires a habit of the heart surrounding, listening and empathy. We also saw that by walking together, the Holy Father has evoked the model of Church as People of God—a people walking together, listening to one another, and each one helping the other along the journey. In this article, we will focus on communion and mission.
Dr Ruby Alleyne, chair of the Synod team was asked to summarise the synod journey of the Archdiocese in one phrase. She said: “Relationship building—the need for support/formation for all of us, clergy and laity, to develop/strengthen our relationship with Christ and to understand the inseparable connection between that and developing/nurturing relationships with each other.”
If you listen to her comment, you will recognise the overtones of the great commandment. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it… love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:36–40).
The discernment from the synod process is that we need the skills to love. Over the nearly five years that I have been Archbishop, the most consistent complaint I have received is the lack of love, courtesy, and respect in our relationship to one another.
Jesus in His farewell discourse calls His disciples to “love one another; even as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Christianity revolves around love, or it is nothing at all.
In his encyclical letter God is Love (2005), the Holy Father emeritus Pope Benedict XVI goes through a very nuanced and textured discourse for the first 24 paragraphs. Then he pauses and says:
Thus far, two essential facts have emerged from our reflections:
The Holy Father emeritus makes some vital points. The first is that our mission is threefold: teaching, sanctifying and charity. This threefold nature is inseparable. Each dimension of mission is interconnected with the other dimensions.
In the Church local and universal, some have taken one dimension and attempted to make it the mission. The evangelisation people or the liturgical people or the social justice people sometimes attempt to make that dimension the most important. This is not our tradition.
What is worse is that each of these begins to suspect the other of being less than fully Catholic. These three dimensions need each other. Also, we all need to relate with extreme love if we are to be true to the mission.
Therefore, Pope Emeritus Benedict stresses: “For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being” (25).
Charity, or love or communion are indispensable to the true nature of the Church. We would not be truly Catholic if communion was not central to our life and practice.
Where do we learn to love? It is first taught in the family. If not, we will be in remedial learning all our life.
It is the family, as it journeys to become domestic Church that is the first school of life and love. So, Pope St John Paul II would say when the family finds her identity, she will find her mission, i.e., to be a community of life and love.
The mischief that the Synod seeks to cure requires that we become lovers and missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. As we learn to love more deeply, we will share the Good News more consistently with each other.
As we learn to share the Good News more, we will become better lovers.
The mission is communion. Communion is indispensable for the mission.
Pope Francis is attempting to connect every Catholic with what is vital for Christianity; to give us a new lived spirituality, an ecclesiology, a way of loving God and each other which leads to a new commitment to the threefold mission.
Reflect on your experience as a Catholic. Do you see love and mission as vital to your practice of the faith? We all need to grow in these areas. Commit to small growth steps.