Synodality as a way to implement Laudato Si

The pandemic, a kairos to foster synodality as a way to implement Laudato Si

Religious life cannot miss this appointment!

This global pandemic and sanitary crisis act as a revelation of both our ills, dysfunctions and lights, good practices. It particularly highlights inequalities and injustices but also initiatives of solidarity and care for the weakest. This time is also a “Kairos”, an opportunity to stop and check in to choose a better future and build a better world. Trying to read together the signs of the times in the midst of this uncharted context, we hear even more loudly the cry of the poor, the cry of the oppressed, the cry of those who ask for breath.

To fulfill her mission in taking account of our contemporary contexts and cultures to serve the common good of our “common home”, the Church has to embody the path of synodality.

Because synodality is the required ecclesiology for today articulated with integral ecology that include integral human development. So it is a truly good news and in a sense, not really a surprise after the synod on young people that insisted so much on synodality that the next synod of bishops in 2022 will be on synodality. Its topic “For a synodal Church : communion, participation and mission” gives us already the key words for our missionary life. And religious life, due to its experience of community life, communal discernment and ministry has probably a major role to play for the transformation of a clerical church to a synodal church.

From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has emphasized this vision of synodality as he expressed a way to look at the Church that highlights the notion of “The People of God”. In one of the most important speeches of his pontificate – the address for the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the synod of bishops, 17 October 2015 – he clearly designed and embraced the path of synodality as the one “expected by God for the Church of the third millennium”[1]. He stated that synodality – “Journeying together — laity, pastors, the Bishop of Rome” is “constitutive of the Church”. His approach of synodality is rooted in a reevaluation of the theology of the People of God from the Second Vatican’s Council – especially Lumen Gentium chapter 2 – influenced by the Argentinian theology of the People that shaped his former ministry as a Jesuit and archbishop of Buenos Aires. He particularly underlines the sensus fidei and the equal dignity of all the baptized called to be missionary disciples.”

Synodality is a way of being and acting, promoting the participation of all the baptized and people of good will. It means to “walk together” in a pilgrim church, a church on the move, the church of the people of God, where everyone has a voice and takes an active part whatever their age, sex or state of life.

In the vision of Pope Francis, synodality is also linked with the notion of pastoral conversion of the Church that he acquired from the CELAM conference of Santo Domingo[2]. And he articulates these two key elements of the People of God/Sensus Fidelium and pastoral conversion to fathom that the only way for the Church to meet the call of God and fulfill her mission in this contemporary complex and plural word is through a path of reform that requires the involvement of all the faithful. At the heart of synodality, Pope Francis places listening, the mutual listening through which listening to the Holy Spirit is made: “A synodal Church is a Church of listening, with the awareness that listening “is more than hearing”[12]. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the Episcopal College, the Bishop of Rome, each one listening to others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:17), to know what he says to the Churches (Rev 2:7).” Francis, address for the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the synod of bishops, 17 October 2015

This vision of synodality presents the Church in its historical dimension in a state of permanent birth, in an on-going process of reform. That is to say, it is a Church that takes people into account, starting below from the bottom-up of the people in a generative approach that sees the Church constantly being born and starting anew. This vision of a Church in emergence from and in the midst of the “people of the earth”[3] can be connected with the concept of ecclesiogenesis or ecclesiogenetics. It lets us perceive that the identity of the Church is a dynamic identity, not a static one. It is a relational identity of communion-mission rooted in the Trinitarian mystery and the Eucharistic mystery. Intertwisted with this vision of synodality embodied by the image of the inverted pyramid[4] is an understanding of the hierarchical ministry itself[5].

In this vision of synodality embodied by the image of the inverted pyramid[6] “this image offers us the most appropriate interpretive framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself. “[7] From it we can deduce a style of leadership and manner of exercising power.

A synodal church is a relational church where all the People of God, where their vocation and position are in interdependence and mutuality. The minister doesn’t exist outside the community. He is not separate from the people to whom he ministers [8]. When we put a priority on the centrality of our baptismal call, the common priesthood of all the baptized, we can no longer separate the clergy and the laity as the clerical pattern does. The minister is the one who represents the community of which he or she is part. They are all together called to be a communion-in-mission animated by the Holy Spirit, a discerning missionary community. The main role of the minister is here to help bring about a communal discernment and to serve the communion of the community dedicated to the common good of the society. “Ministry doesn’t exist as a power or reality in its own right but only as linked to pastoral service”[9]

Thus, decisions have to be taken through synodal processes that require listening to and involves all the protagonists and seeks for consensus. If there is no synodality without primacy, the minister who is the leader is making the final decision from this whole spiritual process of listening and discernment that is embodied in the important notion of conspiratio[10]. “We might consider an image first developed by Cardinal John Henry Newman in the nineteenth century: the conspiratio fidelium et pastorum, literally the “breathing together of the faithful and the pastors”. He is mingling with the community among whom he is journeying and is accountable to the people of this community. The vision and practice of a synodal Church as opposed to a clerical church is articulated in a relational anthropology and theology of ministry.

With this in mind, we can shift our old hierarchical images of power imposing itself from above to sketch it as a process that empowers and enables. As the synod on young people named it we are called to endorse a vision of power in ministry as “a generative force (…) to liberate freedom”[11] This pneumatical conception of power based on the manner of Jesus who came to free the freedom[12] ( to liberate the person) is associated with the notion of servant leadership.

In conclusion, to follow up this perspective of an interconnection between the approach opened by Laudato Si and the ecclesiology of synodality, we have to envision how the ecological conversion, the cultural conversion, the pastoral conversion and the synodal conversion are interrelated. As long as human beings promote abusive relationships towards the earth to exploit it, they will have a tendency to develop abusive relationships among them and vice versa. Relationship of respect and mutuality between men and women, between people of different colors, between clergy and laity, between human beings and the earth go hand in hand. The path to implement Laudato Si, Justice and Peace, equality and fraternity to shift the paradigm that destroys our planet and oppressed so many victims is the path of synodality. The method underlying synodality is the method of dialogue, listening and discernment in common. Thus to find the best practices for synodality and to end all form of abuses in the Church and in the society, there is probably a source of inspiration to take away from those who are exploring new ways of being and doing together based on the notion of cooperation, collective intelligence, communal deliberation, shared governance, and circular leadership.

Religious life cannot miss this appointment!

Sr Nathalie Becquart, xavière

 

[1] “The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” Francis, adress for the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the synod of bishops, 17 October 2015

[2] “the notion of pastoral conversion is proposed as an organic and structural axis of the whole genesis and ecclesial organization, affecting “everything and everyone” in relationship to lifestyles (personal and community praxis), exercises of authority and power (relationships of equality and authority), and ecclesial models (structures and dynamisms)” SD 30

[3] “Francis has adopted the conciliar people of God ecclesiology (Evangelii Gaudium 111, 114). This Church, which ‘is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture’ (EG 115), must go out into ‘new socio-cultural settings’ (EG 30) and reach the ‘periferies’, the remote areas (EG 20)” Rafael Luciani, “The centrality of the People in Pope Francis` Socio-cultural theology“, Concilium 3 (2018) 58.

[4] “§57. Taking up the ecclesiological perspective of Vatican IIPope Francis sketches the image of a synodal Church as “an inverted pyramid” which comprises the People of God and the College of Bishops, one of whose members, the Successor of Peter, has a specific ministry of unity. Here the summit is below the base.” International theological commission, synodality in the life and mission of the Church, march 2018

[5]“this image offers us the most appropriate interpretive framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself.” ibid

[6] “§57. Taking up the ecclesiological perspective of Vatican IIPope Francis sketches the image of a synodal Church as “an inverted pyramid” which comprises the People of God and the College of Bishops, one of whose members, the Successor of Peter, has a specific ministry of unity. Here the summit is below the base.” International theological commission, synodality in the life and mission of the Church, march 2018

[7] ibid

[8] “There is to be no distance or separation between the community and its Pastors – who are called to act in the name of the only Pastor – but a distinction between tasks in the reciprocity of communion.” Ibid §69

[9] Richard Gaillardetz, “The Ecclesiological Foundations of Ministry within an Ordered Communion,” in Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministry, ed. Susan Wood (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003),   38

[10] This correlation promotes that singularis conspiratio between the faithful and their Pastors[78], which is an icon of the eternal conspiratio that is lived within the Trinity. The Church thus “constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfilment in her” International theological commission, synodality in the life and mission of the Church, march 2018

[11] According to the expressions coming from §71 of the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, “In order to undertake a true journey of maturation, the young need authoritative adults. In its etymological meaning, auctoritas indicates the capacity for enabling growth; it does not express the idea of a directive power, but of a real generative force.”

[12] “In the episode of the healing of the possessed epileptic (cf. Mk 9:14-29), which evokes so many of the forms of alienation experienced by young people today, it seems clear that Jesus stretches out his hand not to take away freedom but to activate it, to liberate it. Jesus fully exercises his authority: he wants nothing other than the growth of the young person, without a trace of possessiveness, manipulation or seduction” ibid

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