Yesterday, the Synod on Synodality released their final document. I have read what they have released and will share with you my takeaways. I am sure someone more learned can do a more thorough breakdown, but this will have to suffice as a brief assessment.
Much has been made of the Synod both in the press and online. Some were worried that it was about radically overhaul and contradict Church doctrine. Others thought that it would bring about a revolutionary sea change like Vatican II.
Neither side was correct.
The Synod, by its nature, is an advisory body; it does not have the power to change doctrine. The Synod can only make recommendations for the Church.
The three key themes to come out of the Synod are:
1. Called and Gifted through Baptism
2. Communion with Christ and One Another
3. Sent Forth on Mission.
CALLED AND GIFTED THROUGH BAPTISM
The Synod said that there was “the need to grow into a more synodal Church, starting with the recognition of the dignity of all the baptized.” (For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission, 14). Keeping with the themes of Vatican II, there is a greater call for the participation of the laity in the life of the Church. To do this, the Synod felt that “there was the desire for greater co-responsibility among the laity and the clergy, including bishops.” (17) This means viewing the the clergy and laity more as co-laborers in the Vineyard of the Lord and in the ministry of the Gospel. There was a strong desire to bring in more voices and participation from women and young people.
COMMUNION WIHT CHRIST AND ONE ANOTHER
The main theme of this section was alienation. There are many who feel alienated from Christ and Church. They are on the margins of society and feel a barrier to full communion with the Body of Christ. Partially this begins with the lack of trust some have in the hierarchy of the Church because of sins and scandals. “A significant threat to communion within the Church is a lack
of trust, especially between the bishops and the laity, but also between the clergy in general and the lay faithful.” (25) When our leaders lose the moral high ground, it becomes very difficult for them to call others to a holy way of life.
The Synod listed several people who feel alienated from the Church, including people with same-sex attractions, the divorced and remarried without annulment, and those who have had access to the Latin Mass restricted. The Synod called for a greater sense of listening or “synodality” (this is a word used constantly throughout the document). “There was a consensus that more formation in synodality is needed.” (31). This means that we must listen to those who are not in full communion with us and hear their stories.
SENT FORTH ON MISSION
This section makes clear that we are a Missionary Church. This means that, like the Apostles of old, we are called to go out from our comfortable places and reach out to those on the margins. This is what Christ did. This is how the Apostles went to the ends of the Earth to proclaim the Good News. Today, geography is not the impediment. Instead, the focus is on those in our communities who are on the margins. We are called to reach out to them and draw them “into the tent” of the Church.
There is much in this document that is laudable. The recognition of everyone’s baptismal dignity is paramount. One of the things that has happened in recent years is that we quickly vilify those who disagree with us. We must always remember that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. All the baptized have been adopted into that family and so we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The call for greater participation of the laity can bear great fruit. Any parish priest will tell you that the more that the families are active in the Church, the more alive the parish community becomes. As someone who works with young people, it is so important to bring them in as active members of the faith. My faith was renewed and reformed when I was seventeen. These experiences matter.
The call for greater listening is also a good thing. As I have gotten older, I’ve come to understand that society changes rapidly. The moral norms of the world I grew up in are not the same ones that many of my students have. Because of this, some of my old teaching methods are not nearly as effective as they used to be. In order to improve, I have to listen to where my students are in their spiritual journey. Even the act of listening can be very healing. Often when I have a student who seeks me for advice, my main focus is to let them talk. Just giving voice to your feelings can be a great relief.
And we are all called to actively bring people to Jesus. Like Peter, we must be fishers of men. The Synod’s call to reach out to the marginalized is something that all Christians must do.
While the Synod calls for these good things, there are a few areas of confusion or ambiguity. For example, it says “While clarity is still needed around exactly what a fully co-responsible
Church looks like, delegates proposed the examination of a variety of aspects of Church life, including decision-making roles, leadership, and ordination.” (19) This is an incredibly problematic statement since the question of women’s ordination has been closed since Pope St. John Paul II wrote Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. This is couched in the qualifier “clarity is still needed,” clarity has already been given. Even Pope Francis recently reaffirmed that Holy Orders is “reserved for men.”
This speaks to the general problem of confusion. As mentioned above, people were expecting doctrinal statements. “This isn’t so much about the what as about the how.” (37) They Synod is attempting to set up a framework of activity. But the clarifying content seems mostly absent. We are called to reach out to those with same-sex attractions? Yes. How do we do so while not compromising the doctrines on human sexuality? The Synod doesn’t say. Should we minister to those who cannot receive communion because they are divorced and remarried without annulment? Yes. How do we do that and maintain the integrity of the Sacrament? The Synod doesn’t say.
It doesn’t seem like you can have an effective how without a what.
The quote that caught my eye was this “Tension is conversion.” (36) This means that the discomfort we feel at brining in the marginalized is part of our conversion to God. While tension can be a source of purgation from our old prejudices, I don’t think tension can be synonymous with conversion. Tension can arise in the Church for many reasons, such as heresy. I do not think that the tension felt from this is a part of conversion. In fact, tension can lead to disunity, which is not of God. This idea that tension is essential feels too couched in Hegelian philosophy (where progress only occurs through conflict) than in Catholic Tradition (which is about God uniting us in His grace). Again, tension can be an important part of refining our faith, but it is not the same thing as conversion.
As with all things, we must devote ourselves to prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If the big takeaways are that we must recognize each other’s dignity, strive for greater communion, and reach out to those on the margins, then this is no bad thing.
Copyright 2023, WL Grayson