The Synodal Process
Catholics around the world are embarking on the synodal process. But what is that? Honestly, it sounds like a medical procedure — probably a diagnostic one at that — full of pain and uncertainty. Actually, that is not a bad analogy for what the global Catholic Church is undertaking.
Pope Francis asks us to reflect on the Church 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, achieve participation, to herself to mission” (Preparatory Document, no. 1). We are looking at what works, what is not working in the Church– the Body of Christ. The process is absolutely diagnostic, but instead of being physically tested, we’re examining the spirit of the Church through our spirits, our experiences.
Think about our wins and struggles.
The main questions we are asking through this process are “How is the Church journeying with you well?” AND “How has the Church not journeyed with you well?” This requires that we take time to think about our lives. Think about our successes and our failures. Think about our joys and our sorrows. Think about our wins and struggles. This requires that we dive deep into our interior lives. This also requires that we examine these feelings, these experiences with the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Holy Spirit to enter into this process lest we become bitter from the failings of the Church or create a false narrative of the wins of the Church. The Holy Spirit will help us to examine our experiences within the context of the Church.
Where did the Church journey well with us? Well, did we allow the Church to journey with us? Did we feel as if we could allow the Church to journey with us or that the Church wanted to journey with us? These are the hard questions, but coming up with diagnoses and treatment plans is often painful and uncertain.
Guess what the wildest part of this whole process is? Pope Francis asks this of all of us. Not just the bishops, not just the priests, not just me, but my neighbor, my coworker, the person who sits next to me at Mass, the person who has been hurt by the Church, the person who has been ignored by the Church, the person who doesn’t see the point of the Church. We’re all called to this self-examination. The next step is the most important: listen.
Listen to these stories that your neighbors, your sisters and brothers, are sharing. Rejoice with them in their successes. Cry with them in their heartbreak. Sit with them in their disdain for the Church. Be with them in the hurt they carry because of the Church.
We’re so quick to justify, condemn, judge the experiences that aren’t our own, or that are contrary to what we know and believe. When faced with hard questions about difficult topics we think a simple FAQ document regurgitating Church teaching or the thoughts of the Church Fathers is enough. It isn’t. Pope Francis knows this and he wants the rest of us to know it too.
We’ll know it by listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another.
We’ll know it by listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another. In a world that feels more fractured and broken than ever, I think the synodal process is exactly what we need. This is an opportunity to look at ourselves, to listen to our neighbors, and become more fully the Church– the Body of Christ. Whole. Unbroken. Glorified.