Fifty years ago the Second Vatican council took place. From that time Synods have been very much part of the life of the Church, the Synods of Bishops are held in Rome usually every three years, but sometimes Special Synods such as the Regional Synod for Oceania in 1998.
In the Archdiocese of Wellington 188 1988, 1998, 2006 and now 2017
Pope Francis last year described these Synod gatherings as “journeying together”.
He also said: “From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome, I sought to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council.”
“We must continue along this path. The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”
I want our “SYNOD” to be an experience of journeying together —all of us journeying together – laymen and women, clergy and religious – young and old, people of different ethnicities – me as the local bishop, the person entrusted with the care of this diocese.
The Pope says that this is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice. It is true that it’s not easy to put into practice because naturally people have their own agendas, their ideas about what the Church should be doing. Clearly I could never do all this by myself…I need the priests, but I also need you all, because we are all the People of God, we are all “journeying together.”
In 2013 in Evangelii Gaudium, Francis emphasized that “all the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients”.
We are all responsible to discern new ways to travel together ways that are not just our own ideas or hobby- horses, but ways the Lord is revealing to the Church. That is why this discernment process for this Synod is essential.
A Synodal Church is a Church that listens, which knows that listening “is more than simply hearing”. (12) It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the bishop, all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
In 2014, at the first session of the Synod on the Family Pope Francis stated: “For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us”. (14)
We listen to the Holy Spirit; we listen to one another, and discern where we might go in the future as the local Church of Wellington.
Our Synod process must be based on and surrounded by prayer. I have invited all people to pray and we have provided a prayer to be prayed at all Sunday Masses …it is now time to pray that prayer in all parishes, schools, communities and family homes from now until September.
An important concept to grasp and understand is that the Church is about “journeying together” towards our eventual meeting with Christ. This also means that we also understand that we are all here to serve one another. “For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the cross.”
Pope Francis has spoken of Diocesan Synods and referred to them as “the noble institution”, in which priests and laity are called to cooperate with the bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community. That is what we are about …. the good of the whole community of the Church in Wellington, which in these days is complex. A Synod is not just about people getting what they want, not about a particular community and its own wishes and desires, it is about the good of all. In a synodal Church it is the fact that we are in communion with one another which inspires all decisions about the local Church.
“Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion,…………( Novo Millenio Ineunte of Pope John Paul)
A spirituality of communion indicates the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters…….
It means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters as “those who are a part of me”. …. sharing their joys and sufferings, sensing their desires and attending to their needs, offering them deep and genuine friendship.
A spirituality of communion implies the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for “others” but also a “gift for me”.
It means to know how to “make room” for our brothers and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens” ………
Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.” (NMI 43)
The Church’s Law speaks of “organs of communion” in the local Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. Pope Francis says that it is only when these organizations keep connected to the “base” (that’s basically me as the bishop) and when we start from people and their daily problems, can a Synodal Church begin to take shape:
We live in a world, which calls for participation, solidarity and transparency in public administration — but often decisions are made by a few …by a small but powerful group. As a Church which “journeys together” we are trying to cherish the dream and rediscover of the dignity of every person, and the concept of authority as service.
One of the most amazing speeches I have ever heard was made by the Pope at the end of the First Session of the Synod on the Family in October 2014. I can’t share it all with you…but a few highlights…..
I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.” And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour.
There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people.
Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life.
A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:
– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, …….closing oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); being certain and not acknowledging that we still need to learn and to achieve. It’s the temptation of the zealous, the scrupulous, the solicitous the so-called – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
– The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; It’s the temptation of the “do-gooders,” the fearful, and the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
– The temptation to neglect the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it];
The duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; (it is the same with the bishop of a diocese). It is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.
We have been gifted with four major documents in the last three years courtesy of Pope Francis; they give us some clear directions about the way the Church should be going…and needs to be going. Those documents are:
- Evangelii Gaudium
- Misericodiae Vultus
- Lauadato Si
- Amoris Laetitia
I think all of these documents in various ways point to the fact that we are to be an “outward looking” Church. I would like this Synod to focus on this approach, that it is not to be inward looking or introspective.
I believe that many of our people think that being Catholic means going to Mass and saying your private prayers, whereas it is about what we do for others; the homeless, disadvantaged, marginalized, the drug addicts, the sick who do not have adequate healthcare, the poor and lonely, the migrant and refugee, the outcast, those who don’t “fit in,” the list is endless, but this is where we are to be today.
One of my favourite and very challenging quotes is from Pope Benedict who wrote; “Unless this Eucharist passes over into concrete acts of love it is intrinsically fragmented.” (Deus Caritas Est 14)