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Faith Formation in a Synodal Style Part 4 in the series "What is Synodality?"

This continues our blog series of blogs in which we share what we are discovering about how to recognize synodality. We expect there will be more to understand and more signs of it in practice as we journey together, and as the 2nd Assembly of the Synod on Synodality brings forth its wisdom. And we expect some of you have insights you can share with us. Please do! Contact us here. We are co-learners along this #synodjourney.

Our #synodjourney continues this week, taking a look at faith formation approaches and topics that will be found in a parish determined to become synodal. Why? Since the beginning of this process, every document ,from the first descriptors all the way to the Synthesis Report after the first session, has said EVERYONE will need formation in order to be able to be a synodal people. EVERYONE. We should understand that to mean we don't already understand how to participate in synodality. We need to be formed...not just given knowledge...formed, in synodal practices. The difference? Sharing knowledge about a subject tends toward the intellectual, the mind. Formation includes the intellectual, the spiritual and the practical: it's far more wholistic than just concentrating on the intellectual. There's already an axiom afoot about synodality that says something like "You have to DO it to GET it." Obviously, that's more than learning about it.

So what is synodality? It's a way of being. The Synthesis Report says it this way: "Through it [the synodal way of being], the Holy People of God have discovered that a synodal way of being silent, praying, listening, and speaking, rooted in the Word of God and in joyful, if also somewhat painful encounters, leads to a deeper awareness that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. An invaluable fruit of this process is the heightened awareness of our identity as the faithful People of God, within which each is the bearer of a dignity derived from Baptism, and each is called to differentiated co-responsibility for the common mission of evangelisation [sic]." (1,a)

What is synodality? It's a living communion. The Synthesis Document describes it this way a little further into Part 1: "In its broadest sense, synodality can be understood as Christians walking in communion with Christ toward the Kingdom along with the whole of humanity. Its orientation is towards its mission, and its practice involves gathering in assembly at each level of ecclesial life. It involves reciprocal listening, dialogue, community discernment, and creation of consensus as an expression that renders Christ present in the Holy Spirit, each taking decisions in accordance with their responsibilities." (1,h)

What is synodality? It's a deeply spiritual practice. Again, the Synthesis Report says it this way: "The renewal of the Christian community is possible only by recognizing the primacy of grace. If spiritual depth is lacking, synodality remains cosmetic. What we are called to, however, is not only to translate into community processes a spiritual experience gained elsewhere, but more deeply to experience how reciprocal relationships are the place and form of an authentic encounter with God. In this sense, while drawing on the rich spiritual heritage of the Tradition, the synodal perspective contributes to renewing its forms: of a prayer open to participation, a discernment lived together, and a missionary energy that arises from sharing and that radiates at service." (2,c)

A parish determined to embrace synodality then is a parish whose faith formation practices are going to create a people who practice the elements of synodality regularly, who broaden and deepen their understanding of what it means to live communion , and who invest in the spiritual practices that will enable the Holy Spirit to work in and through the community. Since this is a blog and not a deep treatment of each of these elements, which I am sure faith formators have begun doing already, I'd like to share with you some of our Team's reflections on what faith formation might look like in a synodal parish. For's a list.

  1. Faith formation has as its starting point the idea that the parish is a School of Discernment. Everyone in the parish desires to be guided by the Holy Spirit personally and communally and expects the parish to teach them how to live this way.

    1. That means formation discovers the graces of baptism, upholds the dignity of all the baptised, investigates its rights and responsibilities, helps all ages of the baptised to see themselves as part of the Body of Christ on earth today, continuing Christ's ministry.

    2. Formation also continues to discover what it means to be "sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit" in terms of honoring the voice of the Spirit within each baptised person, and discovering what the Spirit wants of the community, what gifts the Spirit has already given within the community, and what gifts the Spirit may be enabling that were not readily apparent so that the mission can be undertaken.

    3. Since the Mass is where Christ's presence through the Holy Spirit is encountered, liturgical formation is mystagogical, helping the Body of Christ recognize the Spirit's presence in the Mass, and assisting them in their full, conscious and active participation as a response to the Spirit's presnce.

    4. A School of Discernment teaches the practice of listening to the Holy Spirit (Conversations in the Spirit is one tool for this) and develops its "curriculum" based first on practices that enable listening to the Spirit to happen. At all levels, a synodal approach to formation will include teaching and practicing listening skills within the context of prayer and of interpersonal relationships.

    5. The People of God will need to be taught how to discern the Spirit's movements in their personal lives AND how to discern the Spirit's voice in community. Related to this are two practical expressions. The first is that the parish uses communal discernment to make choices that involve the whole community, thus living out of the fruits of a School of Discernment. The second is that individuals and families are taught how to discover the Spirit's movements in their life, to listen to the Spirit's call for conversion, and to hear the Spirit beckon them to put on the mind of Christ, to seek forgiveness for whatever is blocking that, and to adopt a new way of life when called by the Spirit.

  2. Faith formation embeds an outward focus on the world that is crying out for God's presence. The Synthesis Document says it this way, "If becoming synodal means walking together with the One who is the Way, a synodal Church needs to put those experiencing poverty at the center of all aspects of its life: through their sufferings, they have direct knowledge of the suffering Christ [cf. Evangelii Gaudium, no 198]." (4,h) Just a bit later in the document, we read "The experience of encounter, sharing a common life and serving those living in poverty and on the margins should be an integral part of all formation paths offered by Christian communities; it is a requirement of faith, not an optional extra." (4,o) Synodality is mission focused so faith formation would be mission focused also. From the youngest of the baptised through adulthood, those people connected to the parish are being helped to see God's beloved who are on the peripheries, marginalized by systems and structures, outcasted, widowed, orphaned who dwell close by (inside the parish boundaries). They are being given skills and opportunities to be the healing presence of Christ close to home and taught how to receive the gift of Christ's presence through each of these people. Service projects aren't counted by hours or by completion of a sacrament preparation process. Outreach is the way of the parish and all who are able participate. And reflection on the experiences is a core formation practice.

  3. Synodal faith formation centers different areas of the Tradition than are currently central in curriculums. The Synthesis Document says it this way, "From the work of the Assembly, there is a call for better knowledge of the teachings of Vatican II, post conciliar teaching and the Church's social doctrine. ...In a world where the number of migrants and refugees is increasing while a willingness to welcome them is decreasing and where the foreigner is viewed with increasing suspicion, it is appropriate for the Church to engage decisively in education, in the culture of dialogue and encounter, combating racism and xenophobia (dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries), especially through pastoral formation." (5,o,p)

Since this is a blog, I'll stop here. My hope is that you are beginning to see that a synodal parish is approaching lifelong faith formation very differently than what is currently in practice in most parishes. This will take innovation, experimentation, "failing forward" in that something did not work out but a lot was learned along the way, and it will take leadership willing to swim against the tide, challenging models, materials and methods. And that means a beginning sign of a synodal parish is present: the acknowledgment that what we have always been doing is not creating missionary disciples.

Our final blog in this series will focus on specific ways the Spirit is calling the Church to unity.

Have some other ideas about how faith formation in a parish will be different in a synodal Church? We'd love to hear from you. Contact us and share!

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