Synod Overview - Week 4
The fourth and final week of the Synod’s first Session has looked at the themes of participation, governance and authority - which covers the contentious subjects of authority, clericalism and the real structures of the Church and how ‘synodal’ they are. Introducing this part of the work last weekend, Cardinal Hollerich commented on some of these themes, adding that the Church will be judged on whatever is seen to come from this particular section of the work. He also noted that there is need for what is achieved more broadly to be reproduced - and reproduced well - at the local level. These things, he said, touch ‘the concrete life of the Church’.
Midweek, the press briefings told us that particular subjects being examined were the roles of women in the Church, especially consecrated women, in terms of decision-making. Clericalism was examined also, together with the need for on-going formation of clergy. It was noted that the Church is ‘for the poor’ - “we will be examined on how we have taken care of the little ones, not for how much knowledge we have.”
Cardinal Prevost (USA) took us back to basics, particularly that of listening. He said that the ‘conversations in the Spirit’ enable all of us to understand what is being asked of us, so that we can move forward as a Church without focussing on our own agenda. The Synod, said the Cardinal, is about teaching us to trust in God and learning to walk together in unity.
Then Archbishop Broglio (USA) spoke about listening to ‘the other’ even if we disagree, recognising the image and likeness of God in that person as much as in ourselves. Open questions at the briefings looked at the role of the laity in the selection of Bishops, where we were assured that ‘significant steps’ have been taken. He was asked by one reporter if the American Bishops accepted any responsibility for the relatively low level of engagement amongst the American public in the Synodal process; he replied - “we do have some responsibility”. When asked about structural change within the Church, he said the Synod was focussed more on the human and spiritual side, rather than the institutional - even though structural changes are specifically mentioned in the Working Document.
Toward the end of the week, the ‘Letter To The People Of God’ was published by the Synod participants, detailing what has been looked at and what work has been done. The Letter points out that the common element amongst all present was not the sacrament of Holy Orders, but that of Baptism, which is unprecedented and very welcome. It stated the participants “felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion” so that the Church can fulfil its vocation of proclaiming the Gospel, whilst placing itself at the service of humanity. It affirmed that “to progress in its discernment, the Church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest”.
Addressing the final Congregation, the Holy Father said that he likes “to think about the Church as the faithful people of God” - a people who have a soul, a dignity and a certain ‘infallibility’; and he reminded the hierarchy that they come precisely from this group, from which they received their faith - a faith usually transmitted by women. And so, he said, “the women of the holy people faithful of God are a reflection of the Church. The Church is feminine, she is spouse, she is mother.” This Church, he concluded, goes forward in faith despite the ‘thorn’ of institutional clericalism, which remains present, standing in the way of the Gospel and the missionary call of the Church to constantly go forward.
Speaking at the beginning of the week, Fr Timothy Radcliffe noted that when the participants return home, it may seem like ‘the quiet moment’ has commenced. And yet, he said, this is the beginning of the “most fruitful moment - it is the moment of germination”.
All those here in the Diocese of Motherwell who have taken part in meetings and - above all else - prayed for the intentions of the Synod, that germination Fr Radcliffe speaks of is the fruit of your prayers and your interest. Pray now that the real fruits of the Synod - which the Pope reminds us is not optional but is the very way of being Church - bears good fruit here in our Diocese, and in every diocese throughout the Church.
The real work of the Synod has not ended - it has just begun.