This is the final blog in this series intended to provide language and logic for why synodality is the way forward for the Church in the third millennium. This too is addressed primarly to clergy and those lay ecclesial ministers who are serving with clergy within the Church. It's no secret that synodality has not yet taken root across the United States. It's also no surprise that we are blogging about why synodality is the right choice in the right time. Our mission is to unleash the Spirit of synodality through digital resources and consultation. If you've not read the previous blogs, you should read them before reading this final installment. You'll get a more complete picture of the "Why" that way!
Confession. I worked on both parish and diocesan staffs in my "front line" ministerial career. I am familiar with the laments of the clergy about not getting to do more of what they became a priest to do, about too much to do in general, about not having the knowledge/experience but having all the responsibility, and about feeling lonely and unsupported, especially by their Bishop. Frankly, I felt the same way a lot of the time...except of course for the problem lay leaders often have of having responsibility without authority. But that's another struggle for another time. These are real struggles for real people...our spiritual leaders. The good news is that these struggles have effective responses. Synodality is one such response. It's a response that calls for a lot of conversion of expectations, hearts, minds and around power. It's a response that calls for changes in systems and structures, in institutional practices that are not effective, and in the relationship between service, power and authority. But it's a response poised to address some of these very real struggles! If you didn't read the previous blog, start there. Then read on.
This blog completes the five-part series on "Why synodality?" by offering two more clergy struggles and how synodality addresses them. I'll finish up with some other quick reasons why embracing synodality is right. Next up, the clergy problem of
4. Trust and trustworthiness. I never abused anyone, but I'm guilty by association. And I'm pretty sure if I am ever accused, this is how I'll be approached by the Bishop and his people. Mistrust, distrust, cynicism, snarkiness and withdrawal are all outcomes of a Church with a trustworthiness issue. People don't trust their priests, or don't trust them enough. And priests don't trust their Bishops or fellow clergy. It's not getting a lot better, despite Pope Francis' widespread popularity. Turns out it's ok to like the Pope and still not trust the institution in general or your parish in particular. Welcome to this sign of our times.
The Instrumentum laboris does not shy away from this reality when it notes, "In many regions, the Churches are deeply affected by the crisis caused by various forms of abuse, including sexual abuse and the abuse of power, conscience and money. These are open wounds, the consequences of which have yet to be fully addressed." (4) And lest we overlook it, these wounds affect the clergy as well.
So what restores trust/trustworthiness? I've blogged already about this issue. So,how does synodality specifically affect trust/trustworthiness? One of the elements that restores trust is to remove secrecy, foster openness, and invite shared decision-making. In the lingo of the day, it's called transparency and accountability. In synodal language, it's called co-responsibility of all the baptized, formation for synodality that is shared by clergy and laity, and then shared decision-making, using discernment in common with a single shared purpose: to hear the Spirit speak and then to figure out how to respond. This is a powerful step in restoring trustworthiness. It's slow. It takes humility, and a loose hold on power. It takes surrender to the Spirit and lots and lots of communication. But it benefits the clergy by opening up what is too often perceived as hidden. That kind of transparency is key to rebuilding trustworthiness and synodality's practices enable this. Now, for the final reason why synodality benefits the clergy...the problem of
5. Purpose and meaning. It does not seem to matter what I/we are doing. The same 20% of the people care and the rest don't care enough to commit even a tiny bit of time, talent and treasure. And we just keep getting new initiatives from the diocese. I'm frustrated and out of ideas. I've been in the staff meeting where this is the discussion. And it's not just the clergy that are frustrated, worn out and out of ideas. Staff and key volunteers burn out trying to implement the latest idea or initiative, only to have the same 20% who are already over-committed, work to make it happen. It doesn't get traction, and fails or flounders, with its leaders exhausted and becoming cynical. Or its gets traction, but doesn't form disciples. Yep. Been there.
Synodality calls for something very different. It calls for a focus on mission, specific to a place and time. It calls for listening deeply to the hopes, dreams, joys, and anxieties of the people within parish/diocesan boundaries and hearing in them the cry of the poor...the economically poor, the poor in spirit and the cry of Mother Earth. Synodality then says organize parish life to respond to these needs. Pastors, pastor the sheep who are often without a shepherd. Administrators, set up the systems and structures to continue to pastor these people, no matter who they are. Set up ministries so that they are engaged in this mission of listening, welcoming, responding and being always ready to share the reason for their hope and their energy and resources: Jesus. Have ministers who prepare others to be synodal. Make sure the people know Jesus and experience the Spirit's energy, creativity and hope so they can share Him with those around them.
People want to be involved in work that matters. The world needs the salt, light and leaven of every parish, bringing Jesus' listening heart, powerful responses, and abiding commitment to their assigned territory. Authenticity and relevance matter to all people, but for a Church that desires a preferential option for the young, authenticity ranks at the top. And clergy...if you organize for mission, as synodality calls for, you will feel energized, and relevant and important to those who are seeking meaning AND to those whose needs you address. Engagement will rise. You won't need the latest program from the diocese or one brainstormed from within. You will be doing more of the work you became a priest to do: mediate Christ to the world in meaningful ways. Others will join you and you'll be part of a community that is truly a light to your neighborhood, city or county.
The Instrumentum laboris says it this way: "The local Churches have spoken of their concern to be equipped to address urgent local realities..." (4). Yes! Synodality's mission focus encourages just this kind of purpose, structure and ministries.
One more reason why synodality benefits the clergy but it's a lot less popular these days in the United States: obedience. Obedience, at its root, means "to incline your ear toward". Synodality is the direction the Pope is leading the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Inclining your ear toward this direction, listening for the Holy Spirit and acting accordingly are signs of a disciple on the road. Lead the way. Your sheep will follow, learning how to parse the voice of the Spirit for our times.
And a final reason why synodality benefits the clergy is in its call to unity. Synodality's methods of spiritual listening and discernment in common provide a means to cross the divisions, to use the differing points of view to provide the fertile ground for the Spirit's "third way" and they enable the silence and echo chambers of polarization to become the safe conversation and learning zones characteristic of Jesus. But only if you learn how, exhibit courage and trust the Spirit's capacity to bind us together even if we see different realities.
Both provide a model of discipleship grounded in trust, in fidelity and in truth, taking seriously the Pope's intentions and teachings, and taking even more seriously the formation of conscience that would be necessary to dissent. Jesus prayed that we might be one as he is one with the Father (John 17:21). Obedience and commitment to this unity are hallmarks of a divinely instituted office, one clergy benefit from abiding.
There you have it...2 blogs and 5+ 2 reasons why synodality offers the clergy meaningful responses to some of their needs. We now have language and logic to share. We now have calls to obedience and unity to appeal to. Let's share this good news with our clergy, giving those already on the #synodjourney the language to explain their whys and giving those still undecided reasons to follow.
We are all co-responsible for this movement. Let's act by embracing the why's of these blogs, highlighting the reasons on our personal social media, and talking about this often. Want to talk more about this? Several of our Team members offer free 1-hour conversations! It's not too soon...and it's never too late to get started!
Photo Unsplash/Daniele Colucci