Synod 2021–2023 has as its expressed aim “to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term.”
The early step in the process was gathering as many and varied opinions and experiences of the Church’s journey with the People of God.
Out of the parishes, some of the stories which emerged remind that Church resides in every Catholic individual. The less-than-pleasant experiences recounted were often as result of a singular interaction with a person or group of Catholics, be it lay or clergy. These interactions were failings in delivering the mission of Christ.
The tension for many righteous persons is in reconciling the unfailing truths of core Church teachings and delivering such in manner that still reflects Christ’s love, and in a truly dialogic and open way.
The success of the Synod process, while examining the overarching workings of the Church, still rests with individual mission in daily interaction.
We cannot be in such a vain state of holiness, that we are swift to condemn or judge those with whose positions we disagree, or whose lives we feel do not reflect the values we hold dear.
The journey is sometimes messy, but ultimately can be redemptive, and a thoughtless word or action by another, especially in church, can be the determining factor in driving a person down further into their mess or guiding them out of it.
It is a massive responsibility that requires two characteristics to begin with: humility and love. In Colossians 3:12 we are reminded: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
In Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.
The work of Jesus sets prime example of encounter and evangelisation in the short space of His earthly existence. In ‘How Jesus interacted with people’ on bible.org, some interesting figures are given: in nine cases, Jesus initiated conversations; in 25 instances, it was another person who initiated discussions, and Jesus responded to queries.
“Few were in religious settings. Instead, Jesus talked with people about spiritual issues where they were most familiar. He did not need a special environment or control over the circumstances to discuss things of eternal significance.”
The piece continued: “He connected with people’s thoughts and feelings. He understood that new ideas need to be connected with existing frames of reference if they are to last…. He understood that time is required for ideas to simmer and for people to own them before they act on them.”
In his homily for the opening of the Synod of Bishops on October 10, 2021, Pope Francis speaks to the same: “The Gospels frequently show us Jesus ‘on a journey’; he walks alongside people and listens to the questions and concerns lurking in their hearts. He shows us that God is not found in neat and orderly places, distant from reality, but walks ever at our side. He meets us where we are, on the often rocky roads of life….Every encounter – as we know – calls for openness, courage, and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the presence and the stories of others.”
The Pope’s three words on this occasion are not merely the signposts of the synod process, but keystones for the average person’s interactions: encounter, listen, discern.