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Synodality as a Spiritual Practice

"One of the most important features to emerge for our present understanding is the sense that synodality is not only a theology but a spiritual practice...To be a Christian is to have a 'synodal vocation' and this grows through the spiritual life." The International Theological Commission, "Synodality in the life and mission of the Church" (2018), 43.

This begins another series of blogs on the spirituality that underpins synodal practices. Why this and why now? As we approach the second assembly of the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis has already warned us not to expect the hot button issues to be resolved. What should we expect then? Another experience of the spiritual practices that constitute a synodal Church. So these blogs will help us attune our ears and begin or continue these practices ourselves on the way to fully embracing the spiritual practices that make us synodal. It's my hope that we will also understand the content of the Instrumentum laboris and the activities that are part of each day because we understand synodality as a spiritual practice. We'll see if that hope pans out...

I'm a practical sort. If someone shares an idea with me, I quickly move to how we can make that idea "work." I love to operationally define terms so that it's possible to see them in action. So, when I heard Sr. Nathalie Becquart say there is no synodality without spirituality, and then when I heard synodality defined as a spiritual practice, a way of life that expresses concretely what it means to live in communion, in mission and fully participating in the life of Christ, (Spirituality of Synodality, 6) I immediately went on the hunt for clues as to how to practice a synodal spirituality. These blogs will share what I am discovering. But let me be clear: the spirituality of synodality is going to expand the more we carry out some of the already known practices. We will discover nuances and tweaks, and we are going to discover entirely new practices that open us to the Holy Spirit's activity. What we begin here is just that...first steps on the way to unleashing the Spirit of synodality.

For me, the first clue as to what this synodal spirituality would look like emerged when Pope Francis, in his address opening the Synod on Synodality said, "Thank you for being here for the opening of the Synod. You have come by many different roads and from different Churches, each bearing your own questions and hopes. I am certain the Spirit will guide us and give us the grace to move 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. I want to say again that the Synod is not a parliament or an opinion poll; the Synod is an ecclesial event and its protagonist is the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is not present, there will be no Synod." Step one for me was to ask : What kinds of practices create the space for the Holy Spirit to be the one in charge, the leader, the guide? How does an individual and/or a group of people welcome the Spirit's presence? This is obviously central to the spirituality underlying synodality...the spirituality that will enable us to walk together with Christ.

The Commission on Spirituality Sub-Group provided the Church some beginning descriptors in their document "Towards a Spirituality for Synodality." This document may well be the best interpretive guide we will have to the second session of the Synod, which will focus itself on the practice of synodality first and foremost. Hot button subjects will likely not be addressed until the spiritual practices that constitute synodality are embedded across all levels of the Church. For the Church in the US, that means there's a lot of deeply spiritual work to do.

The Commission's document is well worth your time. These blogs will pull out elements from it and highlight them as essential to the spirituality of synodality. In the weeks ahead, we'll look at some of what is included in the statement that a synodal Church is a contemplative Church (Spirituality for Synodality 25). Through this lens I'll share some of the prayer practices, an approach to understanding the concept of beauty and some of the ways to make room for the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and create anew.

We will also look at the sacraments of initiation as encounters with the Holy Spirit, highlighting the dignity conferred in baptism, the gifts animated in Confirmation and the ongoing encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, and we will link the sacrament of reconciliation, a second baptism, to this look at how our sacramental life creates space for the Holy Spirit to transform us into that new creation called the Body of Christ.

I'll blog on the centrality of the Eucharist as the premiere place of communal encounter with the Holy Spirit, and explore my first insights into what it means that all of humankind bears the image of God. This series will conclude with blogs around transformation/converson and what the Holy Spirit requires of us in order to be able to work within, among and through us.

Remember, the purpose of this choice now is so that we can continue to walk the #synodjourney, embracing its spiritual practices personally, calling for them to be taught and experienced communally, and so continuing to unleash the Spirit of synodality. The second assembly of the Synod on Synodality will likely give us more of the "how-to's" in terms of embracing the practices of a synodal Church. My hope is that each of us is ready to welcome these practices, to share what we have learned as we have embraced them ourselves and that we see this spiritual work as integral to changing the culture of the Church to one that bows before the Holy Spirit's leadership.

As always, if you have insights in this area, practices, questions, hopes or dreams, we hope you will share them with us! We've yet to get any kind of dialogue going among you who are early adopters, but are hopeful that time is now upon us!

And a final suggestion: take a look at "Towards a Spirituality for Synodality" here. It will give you so much with which to undertake this spiritual journey! A final quote from the Preparatory Document for the Synod:

[We want all to] come to see the ways in which the Holy Spirit graces the life of the Church, drawing each one into a deeper love of Christ and moving us to desire an even greater communion, participation and mission. (Preparatory Document 2021, 1)

Photo Credit Deborah Stollery (c) 2018 Alaska Countryside

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