When consultations are launched there is inevitably some cynicism in the ether. “The outcomes have already been pre-determined”, “Same old, same old”, “We’ve been here before”, “Nothing but a talking shop”. And so it is with this Synod on Synodality. No sooner was the synod launched than a torrent of critique came crashing down quelling any flickers of hope.
A further concern is that we have a series of echo chambers where people with the same views gather amongst themselves to have well-rehearsed conversations, that only the most vocal and articulate are heard, and at the end we have another carefully crafted document to sit on a bookshelf already bowing under the weight of its predecessors.
I’m not disputing that a dose of cynicism can be helpful but we simply cannot allow it to be the prevailing narrative. Why? Because we are the People of God.
Who we are is central to our embrace of the synodal pathway. We are people for whom Faith, Hope and Charity is ingrained in our psyche. If it doesn’t feel that way in the Irish Church then we might need to rediscover the joy of being the People of God. That is a journey worth undertaking. Indeed, this is the synodal journey we are embarking upon.
Many people consider this Synod as an outworking of the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council. If we turn to the Council documents we read of the importance of listening to the story of people. In Gaudium et Spes we are reminded that is the experience of our brothers and sisters that will resonate within our hearts; “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (GS, 1).
Pope Francis considers this Synodality as the way of life for the Church; “It is precisely this path of Synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” Indeed at the close of Jubilee year Pope John Paul II drew us to the need to cultivate communion at every level in the structure of the Church life and drew us to the pastoral wisdom of St Benedict; “By the Lord’s inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best and St Paulinus of Nola; “Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes”
Who can take part on the journey?
Everyone. When we read the Vademecum, the handbook for this Synod, it invites us to look at who can participate by looking to Christ’s invitation to all in the Gospels. If we engage our imagination for a moment we might think how Christ gathered crowds of people and invited them to sit in small groups, how Christ looked up to the Sycamore tree and by name invited Zacchaeus to eat and talk with him, how Christ went out in the uncomfortable heat of the day to speak with the woman at the well, how Christ reached out to those living with disabilities. We are called to be Christ like and our participation in the Synod can emulate Christ.
Knowing that Christ is our model for inviting people to be part of the Synodal journey the task before us now is one of creativity. Let us extend invitations not only to the large following within the Church but also to those who find themselves on the margins. And just as Jesus knew the name of Zacchaeus sitting in the sycamore tree we too know people by name in our own family tree, in our workplaces, in our friendship circles who we can invite to take part in the synod. Let us listen to the experiences of Church with the compassion and tenderness with which Christ would listen. Let us talk together, eat meals together, walk and listen to one another and notice how the Holy Spirit is speaking to us and prompting us as we do this.
Paula McKeown, Director of Living Church, Diocese of Down and Connor.