The Good Steward —  For the true participation of all

Daniel Conway

The three-year synodal journey, which will conclude in October 2024, follows in the wake of the Church’s renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council. According to Pope Francis, it is both a gift and a task. 

“By journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through her experience which processes can help her to live communion, to achieve participation, to open herself to mission.”

In his homily for the Opening of the Synod in Rome on Oct. 9, 2021, Pope Francis said, “The Synod has three key words: communion, participation and mission. Communion and mission are theological terms describing the mystery of the Church.”

Jesus first gathered his disciples around him to form them as members of his Body, the Church, and only then did he send them out as missionaries and evangelists. What Pope Francis is telling us is that the divisions among us — whether political, social or religious — are a serious impediment to the mission we were given at our baptism. 

To be effective missionaries and evangelists who proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations and peoples, we must first be united in Christ. 

According to Pope Francis, this insight about the importance of “gathering” (communion) and “being sent” (mission) brings us to a third word: participation. As the pope teaches us, “The words ‘communion’ and ‘mission’ can risk remaining somewhat abstract, unless we cultivate an ecclesial praxis that expresses the concreteness of synodality at every step of our journey and activity, encouraging real involvement on the part of each and all.” 

Participation is a requirement of the faith received in baptism. As a result, the Holy Father believes that a synod proves most beneficial when it becomes a living expression of “being Church,” a way of acting marked by the true participation of all.

Those who fear that synodality is an excuse for making changes in the Church’s teaching miss the main point. Synodality is primarily about engagement — giving all members of the Body of Christ opportunities to participate in the Church’s mission. This requires that we come together around the Word of God and the sacraments. It also means listening prayerfully to the hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties of all the baptized. This can be a source of discomfort for those with firmly held beliefs, but it is an essential requirement if we want to achieve the engagement of all. 

Pope Francis believes that “a synodal Church needs the Spirit, the ever-new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy. The Holy Spirit guides us where God wants us to be, not to where our own ideas and personal tastes would lead us.” 

Let us invoke the Holy Spirit and humbly listen, journeying together with docility and courage, so that all can participate fully in the Church’s mission.

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