The Good Steward — Pope Francis’ vision of synodality

Daniel Conway

Pope Francis is convinced that the synodal process — which involves prayerful discernment, attentive listening and respectful dialogue — is an important church gathering regardless of its outcome.

“Synodality is an ecclesial journey that has a soul, which is the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis says. “Without the Holy Spirit there is no synodality.” 

The Holy Father wants to overcome what he perceives as rigidity, prejudice and closed-mindedness in those who insist on maintaining the status quo. The Holy Father says:

“Synodality is not a chapter in an ecclesiology textbook, much less a fad or a slogan to be bandied about in our meetings. Synodality is an expression of the Church’s nature, her form, style, and mission. We can talk about the Church as being ‘synodal,’ without reducing that word to yet another description or definition of the Church. I say this not as a theological opinion or even my own thinking, but based on what can be considered the first and most important ‘manual’ of ecclesiology: the Acts of the Apostles.”

As the pope sees it, we are taught how to be the Church by paying close attention to the way the Apostles resolved important questions — by listening to one another and by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and direct them. 

“There is no place for ideology in the synod,” Pope Francis insists. “It’s another dynamic. The synod is dialogue between baptized people in the name of the Church, on the life of the Church, on dialogue with the world, on the problems that affect humanity today. But when you think along an ideological path, the synod ends.” 

Thinking along ideological paths is unacceptable because it is prejudicial to any kind of open-minded discussion or to listening from the heart. 

A synod is a religious experience grounded in prayer. 

“Without this spirit of prayer,” the pope says, “there is no synodality, there is politics, there is parliamentarianism.” Pope Francis does want not to change doctrine, but to revitalize the way baptized Catholics are engaged in the Church’s mission. 

Pope Francis expresses his vision as follows:

“Synodality, as a constitutive element of the Church, offers us the most appropriate interpretive framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself. If we understand that ‘Church and Synod are synonymous,’ inasmuch as the Church is nothing other than the ‘journeying together’ of God’s flock along the paths of history towards the encounter with Christ the Lord, then we understand too that, within the Church, no one can be ‘raised up’ higher than others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person ‘lower’ himself or herself, so as to serve our brothers and sisters along the way.”

Pope Francis believes that with a more synodal approach, we can move from being passive observers to playing an active role in the Church’s life. Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire all of us to participate fully in our Church’s mission.

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