This begins a series of blogs that will offer my contributions to increasing our understanding of this culture change underway in the Church. Why? Too many people haven't heard the first thing about this. Why? Many of us who do know about it need to be able to be more concrete and descriptive as we share this concept with others. Why? Because the Universal Church, in the Synthesis Document, has called for increasing our understanding of synodality. Why? Because it's a big concept with lots of facets. Why? Because one of the fundamental elements of synodality is the co-responsibility of all the baptized, so I'm exercising by co-responsibility by thought partnering with all of you!
We’re in an unusual situation in our Church. Instead of having a dogma or doctrine, an exhortation or pronouncement (hello motu proprio) to guide the way, we have a much less intellectual and tidy undertaking at hand: the Synod on Synodality. Here in the United States we remain slow to embrace this, choosing instead to focus on what we’ve always done and on the Eucharistic Revival. In other parts of the world, there’s far better reception of this call from Pope Francis. But no matter the level of reception and therefore engagement to date, the Synod on Synodality is underway.
So what IS synodality? For fun (and truthfully, to learn how this works) I asked Chat GPT, one of the contributors to the Artificial Intelligence world, to tell me, from a Roman Catholic point of view, what synodality is. Here's what it said:
Synodality in the Roman Catholic Church refers to the idea of journeying together and collaborating in decision-making processes within the Church. The term is derived from the Greek word "synodos," meaning "a meeting or assembly." In the context of the Catholic Church, synodality emphasizes the active participation and shared responsibility of all members of the Church, from the Pope to the laity, in discerning and addressing the challenges facing the Church.
The concept of synodality gained significant attention during the pontificate of Pope Francis, who has called for a more decentralized and participatory approach to decision-making within the Church. The Pope has convened several synods, which are gatherings of bishops and other representatives to discuss specific topics, such as family life, youth, and the Amazon region. These synods involve open discussions, consultations, and the sharing of diverse perspectives.
The goal of synodality is to foster a sense of co-responsibility and collaboration among all members of the Church, recognizing that the Holy Spirit can guide the Church through the collective wisdom of its members. It is seen as a way to ensure that decisions within the Church are made in a more inclusive and discerning manner, taking into account the experiences and insights of the entire community of believers.
Not bad. But not nuanced/specific. However, if you're asked what synodality is and the curious person wants a short answer, this will do. Just be sure to let them know there's a lot more to understand.
What did the Synthesis Report for the interim stage say synodality is? In Part 1, section 1 (h) it says
In its broadest sense, synodality can be understood as Christians walking together in communion with Christ toward the Kingdom along with the whole of humanity. Its orientation is toward 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.
You can see how much more specific the Synthesis Document is about what is happening, who is participating and what the synodal methods are. It's not exactly an "elevator speech" definition, that is one able to be delivered clearly from memory in 1 minute or less, but our Church is not known for its short and sweet definitions!
Here are some things to remember as you craft your response to "What IS synodality anyway?"
It's about "we", all the baptized listening to and following the Holy Spirit, who is the leader of the Church.
It means ALL the baptized. Synodality is a journey that seeks to bring all Christians together with the rest of humankind, working toward God's vision of how we live together here on earth while we journey together toward eternal life.
It means we are a people at work, cooperating with the Spirit, collaborating with one another, to care for the last, the lost and the least. This is our primary focus.
It means that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is always sought through the participation of the baptized, using specific processes to enable that to happen.
It means the diminishment of solo decision-making and clericalism.
It means surrendering what is and has been to what should be, according to the Spirit.
It means once the Spirit's voice is heard, the baptized take responsibility for their parts in the action necessary to follow the Spirit. It's everyone's work, according to gifts and resources.
To conclude this first look at what synodality is, I'd like to list some of the things it is NOT. Why? So if you hear someone saying "this is what it is" and it's on this list, you can offer another perspective on it. So here goes...some of what synodaity is NOT:
A Pope Francis thing that will pass when he passes.
A set of assignments to be done by certain dates.
One method for making decisions. It's far more. It's a culture change.
Something that will end with the Pope writing a document.
So there you have one look at what synodality is and what it is not. Up next, "What is the Synod on Synodality?" Perhaps you, like me, have heard some people express a somewhat disdainful question about it. We'll explore some elements of a response next.
Until then, don't forget to steep yourself in the Sacred Word! The previous blog invites our participation with the US Church in reflecting on three texts as we deepen our capacity to hear the Spirit's voice.