This continues our 5-part series on "Why Synodality?" with the last two blogs in this series written specifically for clergy, and by extension for lay ecclesial ministers. What's in it for me? It's the age-old marketing question, and it's one that Catholic clergy need answered so that they can see their way to letting go of what has been, in favor of the Spirit's new creation. So read on...to see what's in it for clergy and other lay leaders.
This blog and the next will just list common clergy/ministry issues and how synodality offers a response to the issue. And for ease of conversation and reference, the issues will be numbered. As with all lists, unless otherwise stated, they are not in an order of importance. Each person reading this will rank these differently. So read on to see if synodal practices address your issue.
1. More chance to do what I became a priest to do. "I don't get to spend enough time doing what I became a priest to do: help people draw closer to God by mediating Christ." Synodality highlights the pastoral needs of the people and calls for organizing parish life and ministries to meet those needs. It's relational. It calls for the field hospital church where caring for the broken, healing wounds, mediating forgiveness and increasing communion with Christ
and each other is the work. For so many clergy, this is their vocation...as healers, as the presence of Christ to a broken world. Lay ecclesial ministers have heard similar calls. Synodality centers the pastoral needs of the people, which will give space and time for clergy and their co-workers to do what they feel most called to do...care for the people.
The Instrumentum laboris for the October, 2023 Synod on Synodality says it this way,
"It is in this context, diverse but with common global features, that the synodal journey takes place. The Synodal Assembly of October 2023 will be asked to listen deeply to the situations in which the Church lives and carries out its mission. What it means to walk together gains its missionary urgency when this question is asked in a particular context with real people and situations in mind. What is at stake is the ability to proclaim the Gospel by walking together with the men and women of our time, wherever they are, and practising the catholicity that emerges from walking together with the Churches that lives in conditions of particular suffering (cf.LG 23)." (5)
The over-arching question that opens the door to this more relational ministry is "What steps can a synodal Church take to imitate ever more closely its Master and Lord, who walks with all in unconditional love and proclaims the fullness of the Gospel truth? (IL, B 1.2)
2. Less on the to-do list. "I have way too much to do." Synodality enables the co- responsibility of all the baptized, once formed, to have a role in the mission and governance of the Church. It fosters collaboration, collegiality and shared ownership for the health and well-being of the Church, allowing pastors and staff to delegate work with confidence. Let's face it, this steep hierarchical system that places all the power and therefore all the responsibility at the top of the pyramid is causing burnout, depression, poor leadership, frustrated management, and overall irritability. And to be fair, this also allows clergy and lay ecclesial ministers to bask in the cultural glow of "busy-ness" which is the hallmark of successful people in this age. This "too much to do" offers excuses for poor performance while at the same time creates sympathy for and acceptance of the poor performance. Synodality offers a way out of this push-me/pull-you by fostering co-responsibility. The Instrumentum laboris says "A missionary synodal Church has a duty to ask itself how it can recognise and value the contribution that each Baptised person can offer in mission." (54)
The over-arching questions that opens this door states, "How can we move towards a more meaningful and effective co-responsibility in the Church, in which there is a fuller realisation of the vocations, charisms and ministries of all the Baptised in a missionary key?" (IL B.2)
3. Removes the pressure of having to know everything and decide everything. "I never learned anything about many of the subjects about which I am expected to make important decisions." Synodality, through its dialogue, discussion and debate, through its openness to the Spirit's creative, innovative ways and through its call to see in all kinds of knowledge streams the voice of the Spirit, allows for a parish/diocese to become a learning organization. With the Spirit at the helm, co-responsible people gathered, listening, learning together, discerning in common after widespread listening lessens this pressure to decide without enough knowledge or experience. And, this ongoing listening and learning will make for better decisions. No longer will parishioners expect the pastor or the bishop to know everything and decide everything. Rather, synodality will place the responsibility of learning and deciding within the community, under the Spirit's guidance. Less pressure. Better decisions. Spirit leadership.
In the Instrumentum laboris we read, "In the Final Documents of the Continental Assemblies, it (conversation in the Spirit) is described as a Pentecostal moment, as an opportunity to experience being Church and to move from listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ to listening to the Spirit, who is the authentic protagonist, and being sent forth in mission by Him." (34)
One question the IL offers to open the door to this opportunity is "How can we develop discernment practices and decision-making processes in an authentically synodal manner, that respects the protagonism of the Spirit?" (IL, B 3.2)
4. Lessens loneliness and isolation. "I don't feel supported by parishioners, other priests or my bishop." No one knows how to be synodal as a culture, a way of life, or as a mindset. This will have to be learned together. The very act of learning how to be synodal with other people, especially fellow priests and bishops, will support a sense of fraternity between clergy and between clergy and their Bishop(s). As the Bishop comes to understand the hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows of his clergy and organizes his work to respond to them, a sense of being heard, supported and enabled to grow in competence and community grows. Synodality, which calls for this kind of deep listening and response to the pastoral needs of the clergy, can strengthen a frayed communion, and can give priests a sense of community learning and growing together that may be thin today.
The Instrumentum laboris says it this way, "Formation is the indispensable means to make a synodal way of proceeding a pastoral model for the Church's life and action. We need integral formation, initial and ongoing, for all members of the People of God. No baptised person can feel extraneous to this commitment and it is therefore necessary to structure adequate proposals for formation in the synodal way addressed to all the Faithful. In particular, then, the more one is called to serve the Church, the more one must feel the urgency of formation: Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Consecrated men and women, and all those who exercise a ministry need formation to renews the ways of exercising authority and decision-making processes in a synodal key, and to learn how to accompany communal discernment and conversation in the Spirit." (59)
Section 2.4 of the Instrumentum laboris asks these two questions that intend to address in part, the lack of support, of communion priests and Bishops experience. It asks:
a. How does the ministry of Priests, "consecrated to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate divine worshop: (LG 28), relate to baptismal Ministries? ; and,
b. In the local Church Priests with their Bishops "constitute one Priesthood" (LG 28). How can we help strengthen this unity between the Bishop and his Priests for a more effective service to the People of God entrusted to the Bishop's care?
Next week's blog will finish this list, with two more reasons clergy ought to see synodality as a move in the right direction, based on what's in it for them. It fosters trust and focuses on mission. More on those two next week. But, as we sign off for this week, consider this:
What's in it for me? As a clergy person or lay ecclesial minister synodality offers these four very concrete, very necessary corrections to difficult problems plaguing Church leaders. When you add these to the other good reasons synodality is to be the way of the Church in the third millennium, it seems both wise and prudent to embrace the conversion it calls for, to move into this way of being, to learn how...and to release fear in favor of the Sprit's promise to be a giver of Life!
Looking for ways to get started or re-start your efforts around synodality? Contact us! We'll think this through with you, point you to resources that can assist you, and if you like, animate some of the conversion synodality calls for!
Photo Unsplash/Millo Lin