Synodality in Action
In March 2020 Pope Francis announced that the theme for the 2023 Synod of Bishops would be: “for a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” Put even more succinctly the next synod would be on synodality.
As is now fairly well known, the term “synodality” means to journey together. Pope Francis has expanded on this concept in a number of ways: the whole people of God, listening to each other all of the time. Or that it involves “moving forward together, to listen to one another and to embark on a discernment of the times in which we are living, in solidarity with the struggles and aspirations of all humanity.”
At the ceremony to mark the 50th Anniversary of the restoration of the Synod of Bishops process, he taught: A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
Here in Australia we have been learning about synodality – the deep and careful listening to the whole people of God through the Plenary Council process. Over recent months the 78 initial proposals for consideration as propositions at the Second Assembly have been released (December 2021) and, dioceses around the world have been asked to consult and feedback items to shape the discernment of the 2023 Synod of Bishops. In different ways, these are examples of the ‘mutual listening’ of which Pope Francis speaks.
In other ways we are seeing the fruits or actions that are emerging from the ongoing listening and discernment that has been the hallmark of the Francis papacy: regular updates to Canon Law reflecting local needs and universal demands; the need to establish clear lines of accountability for a range of matters; corrections to liturgical practices and additions to official ministries, for example. In mid-February the Holy Father moved to decentralise decision-making in a number of areas – these are not earth-shattering for most Catholics but they are signals of a responsiveness to the voices of people across the Church.
It is also the case that these alterations and changes are steps along the journey together – a long pilgrimage where the ground covered is made up of many small steps. In the forthcoming Plenary Council Assembly and then at the 2023 Synod we may see larger more decisive and notable changes.
Synodality will be like that – an ongoing journey of small steps but leading to peak experiences that will come upon us like cresting a hilltop to be greeted by a beautiful panorama. Such summit events will, inevitably, be followed by more listening, discernment and small steps as we explore together what God is asking of us in Australia today; what God is asking of us in the world today.
- Patrick McArdle is the Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn