In 2023, the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will focus on “Synodality” - a way to think of the ordering of the life of the Church. It helps me to think of this in relation to our own experience with Area Catholic Communities: it is always a question of balancing the natural tension between centrality and subsidiarity; or in more familiar terms, between being one and being many.
In this way, our life as a Church reflects something of the one God Who is a communion of three Persons. We can say that the very life of God is this mystery of Trinity in Unity. Figuring out how best to express that divine mystery in our very human lives is a perennial challenge. A centralized organization can be efficient and uniform, but the richness of unique individuality and diverse gifts and insights can be lost. At the same time, too great a variation in what is essential to the identity of an organization can undermine its unity and the potential for great things through collaborative work towards a common goal.
The term “synod” is from the Greek words that mean “coming or meeting together.” It is both a structure long used in the history of the Church, and also an event focused around a particular theme. Pope Paul VI set up a regular pattern of convening bishops in synod over 50 years ago.
Pope Francis opened the first phase of preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops this last Sunday, October 10; and this weekend all over the nation and world, dioceses begin their part in this preparatory phase, which will run until April. That is why this weekend, we are praying fervently to the Holy Spirit in our Mass readings and orations.
In the Book of Revelation, the risen Christ says: “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The plural “churches” here refers to the local Church – today we would say “dioceses” – and sums up the purpose of the whole process: to listen to the Spirit, Whom Jesus promised “will remind you of all I told you and lead you into all truth” (John 14:26). Much more will be shared as the diocesan phase develops, but each of us can already do three things:
1) Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this process, that all may clearly hear the voice of the Good Shepherd leading us to the “fresh and green pastures” of new strength and vigor for the Church.
2) Prayerfully reflect on your own experience of the Church and be prepared to share what you find hopeful, helpful, problematic, difficult, possible, and concerning in the life of your parish, your diocese, and the Church as a whole. I find this reflected in the Gospel we hear for this Synod Mass – the story of Emmaus, where the unrecognized Jesus walks with two of the disciples and asks them: “What are you discussing as you go your way?” This is our entry into the exact same encounter with Christ.
This stage of listening may be difficult; it can be hard to hear about our weaknesses and failures to live the Gospel authentically. But it is something like slamming the door on a messy closet - we can keep it out of sight but that does not bring order to the clutter. Even those who have questioned the Synod and its process are already participating in it … we need to hear those concerns as a Church and bring as many perspectives as we can to work together for healing and unity in the Body of Christ.
3) Be willing to take part in the opportunities to offer your perspectives. We need to hear from all different ages, backgrounds, vocations, careers, experiences of life. Watch for details in the coming weeks; much is still in the development stage.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, an kindle in them the fire of Your love.