Bishop: Daily living must align with message of the Resurrection
April 10, 2024
Thursday April 11th: Jesus, the source and fullness of life
April 11, 2024

Road map to our dream synodal Church

Q: Archbishop J, how do we get to our dream synodal Church?

You have probably heard the expression, “Mind the gap.” What are the gaps that remain between our Church today and our dream Church?

First, a lack of discipleship greatly impacts the Church’s current state and Christ’s intended vision.

Before Christ ascended, He instructed disciples to make more disciples. This is crucial. The Church’s vitality depends on its ability to disciple in a consistent fashion across cultures, languages, and generations. We used to excel at this but our institutions—families, schools, and parishes—have also lost their way.


Outdated models

I need you to think deeply about this for a moment. Consider your experiences alongside those of older and younger generations. Have all generations experienced the same discipleship?

Catholic participation was higher in the 1960s. Was that true discipleship or fear-driven loyalty?

Previously, there was higher participation and social conformity, but was this genuine discipleship? The old culture was authoritarian and fear-driven and excluded non-conformists. Today’s vision that emphasises building community, inclusivity, and dialogue requires another approach.

We need higher participation from members and a greater capacity to pass on the faith. The methods and some of the values that propelled the former culture can no longer work.

Most people who are consciously passing on the faith today come from that cultural default, and the present generation is allergic to many of the default assumptions of that brand of Catholicism.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council went back to sources. Ressourcement and Aggiornamento, two key words from the Council, were about reinterpreting the Catholic culture, based on the original sources and the long tradition of faith, to meet the critical challenges of the present. We need to go back to the sources to understand discipleship in ways relevant to our times.


Evangelisation and Discipleship

At Jesus’ last meeting with His disciples, before His Ascension, St Matthew’s Gospel states:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Mt 28:16–20).

We first need to recognise that some worshipped Him, and some did not. This is the first and most fundamental challenge. Not all disciples believe Jesus is God and worship Him. This was an ancient problem and is also a modern one.

Pause here and ask the question: Do you believe Jesus is God and deserving of our worship—the highest worth we can ascribe to anyone or anything—the place that only God can and should occupy?

There are too many cultural Catholics around today. They are Catholic because it is their culture. We need disciples who will worship Jesus.

St Paul says:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom 12:1–2).


True worship brings right behaviour. We live in a time where conforming to the age is at a pandemic level. The only way through this is to go back to the sources and see what they say. Transformation comes from the renewing of the mind—through the encounter with Jesus Christ. That encounter leads to conversion, discipleship, communion, and mission.

This is the wisdom of Aparecida and its discernment about discipleship formation. We cannot change structures without a renewal of mind, which is about conversion. Three conversions are necessary.



Obedience: The first to discipleship where we worship Jesus, become His followers, and allow Him to lead us. Here, Matthew 28:16–20 is the guide. Baptise them in the name of the Trinity and teach them to obey all Jesus commanded.

Here is the first conversion: To put God’s will above everything else and learn how to discern it better each day. This is the ‘Our Father’ … “Your kingdom come; your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Do we dare put God’s will first in things little and big in our lives? This is the first threshold where we learn God’s call and our vocation.

There is no discipleship without this. If this is difficult for you, stay here and pray for God’s grace to desire it. Our families, schools, parishes, and groups need to be schools of discipleship.

Sensus Fidei: The second conversion is accepting what the Church teaches about the sensus fidei in the 2014 Vatican document. This requires belief in the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, that each disciple is connected to Christ the Head and to each other.

The document says: “… the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, which enables them to recognise and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false. That supernatural instinct, intrinsically linked to the gift of faith received in the communion of the Church, is called the sensus fidei…”

If we believe this, then we accept that synodality is a genuine method to achieve Ressourcement and ultimately Aggiornamento. In our highly volatile culture, synodality is the best guarantee we have to put Christ at the centre. If we see Conversation in the Spirit as a contemplative exercise, then synodality is a way of being Church for our time.

Co-responsibility: The third conversion is towards co-responsibility. For 2000 years we have used a worldly model of leadership, one that Jesus debunks in Matthew 20:24ff.

True leaders are servants. This is not a cliché; this is reality. Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the Diocese of Rome, used the term co-responsible in describing the relationship of the laity to the mission of the Church. This requires a conversion.

In the Code of Canon Law, the whole mission is entrusted to the bishops, and they collaborate with priests, deacons, religious, and laity.

Pope Benedict turned this on its head. All baptised Catholics are co-responsible for the mission, that is, for the Church. This means that the whole people of God are involved in decision-making and decision-taking. The role of the leader is to ensure co-responsibility for mission, at every level.

This is a move away from clericalism; it is, more importantly, a move towards full active and conscious participation of all baptised Catholics in the liturgy (worship) and life of the Church.

The role of the bishop and priest is to equip the laity to discern their vocation and live it fully, offering their gifts for the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:1ff).



The way forward to the Church of my dream—and I pray it is the Church of our dream—is through conversion to discipleship and putting God’s will first in our lives. We all have a stake in this.