Synod was grounded in prayer and doctrine at service of pastoral ministry

The call of Pope St John XXIII that resulted in the Second Vatican Council was a call to respond to a world that had radically changed in the preceding 100 years.

Nov 24, 2023

Pope Francis leads a meeting with representatives of bishops' conferences from around the world at the Vatican Oct. 9, 2021. The meeting came as the Vatican launched the process that will lead up to the assembly of the world Synod of Bishops in 2023. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Most Rev Dermot Farrell, Archbishop of Dublin, Irish Catholic Media Office
The call of Pope St John XXIII that resulted in the Second Vatican Council was a call to respond to a world that had radically changed in the preceding 100 years. In his pastoral heart, Pope John knew that the Church had to respond in new ways to the changed world. The Second Vatican Council was the beginning of that response, and the response continues, and must continue, because the world, and the context of the people we are called to serve, continues to change, and change profoundly.

Last month’s Synod was but the most recent phase of the response that began in the Second Vatican Council. While its process has rightly emphasised the importance of listening to the voices of those not often heard, or even repelled, by Church, this is not the totality of the synodal process. Not only good theology, but also common sense, would tell us that we need to find ways of listening to the voices of all whose faith commitment is deeper ? both ordained and lay, especially women, in the attempt ‘to support a fruitful dialogue between the many charisms and ministries at the service of the coming of the Kingdom.’

I think the way the synodal assembly unfolded was a surprise, both to the participants and to those observing. Pope Francis risked a genuinely new way, with himself listening at tables, with the inclusion of laity with voting rights, the curtailment of sensational daily communications on hot-button issues, and the constant interlacing of prayer and what the process called ‘spiritual conversation’ ? a way of putting authentic listening into practice. It is clear there were convergences, divergences, tensions and questions.

While we do not know what our Church will look like in ten years’ time, the synodal way gives me hope. In particular, I was given hope by the following:

The whole experience was grounded in prayer. While, all issues, including disputed ones were up for discussion, the real question was, where was the Spirit moving? Such a question cannot be answered outside of the Spirit, outside of genuine prayer-filled listening.

Secondly, this phase of the Synod was about how we talk to one another and perhaps, more crucially, how we listen to one another. As one Synod participant perceptively remarked, “the process itself [was and] is, in a sense, a laboratory to help us all learn to listen.”

Thirdly, the participation of all the baptised, including young people and women, in a way that allowed them to participate authentically in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry, was labelled urgent. Significantly, this was a recommendation designated as urgent. That tells us a great deal.

Lastly, I was struck by how it was evident throughout the synodal discussions that doctrine was at the service of the pastoral ministry of the Church. Father Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master of the Dominicans, captured it well: ‘What will be given?’ he asked, ‘We wait to see what the Lord in His wisdom will give us, which will certainly not be what we expect.’

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the changes and challenges which we face. It is true that the model of the Church with which most of us grew up, and for which we were formed, is ? in one sense ? collapsing around us. The demands and expectations of clergy and those in ministry continue to increase, while the numbers in active ministry decline. Things are changing, and while change is not uniform, and has a way to go, partnership is providing an impetus for pastoral and Church development.

Parishes and partnerships are called to express community in new ways. This means listening to the people with whom we form community. We cannot hear others well, however, unless we are listening to ourselves, to our own hearts, which again brings us into an intimate dialogue with God.

Listening is at the very heart of the synodal process - listening to each other, listening to ourselves, listening to and for the Lord. That means we have to risk what Pope Francis risks: risking the move from ‘top-down’ communication to the communication among those who are travelling with each other on the one road, people journeying together after their Lord (Matt 4:19-20). This will bear fruit. To paraphrase Timothy Radcliffe, not the fruit we expect, but the fruit the Lord gives. Nobody knows how this will pan out, but our Lord will not be found wanting. As it says in the psalm, “He opens wide His hand, and grants the desires of all who live.” (Psalm 144 (145): 16)

We know that the mission with which we are entrusted does not depend on our own capacity or worth. If it did, we would long since have succumbed to challenges without, and weaknesses within. We build on sure foundations; indeed, the cornerstone will not fail.

Total Comments:0