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Understanding the Synod

September 24, 2023 4 min read
The Vatican

Media coverage is intensifying its focus on the Synod to be convened in Rome. This international gathering of bishops and other invited delegates will focus on the theme of Synodality, a characteristic of the Church’s journey that seeks greater communion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis eagerly desires to have representatives from the around the world gather at the Vatican for this multi-week event, for increased prayer, dialogue, and listening so that the Holy Spirit might speak more clearly about the Church’s onward mission and that a fuller sense of participation in the advancement of this mission can be realized.

In such an international gathering of delegates from all corners of the globe, it is difficult to predict where the conversation may lead. All of the delegates, most of whom are bishops, come with their own lived experience and perspective of the Church. These perspectives are welcomed when examining how the Church can become more united and advance the Gospel to all peoples, especially to those who feel distant from the Church. Yet these perspectives can vary widely, and as recent media reports have indicated, some delegates may come to the Synod with differing priorities and agendas, of which may only represent the desires of a small minority of Catholics.

By definition in Canon Law, a Synod of Bishops is to assist the Holy Father with counsel in the “preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the church in the world.” Pope Francis has deemed it helpful to broaden the invitations to this Synod beyond bishops so that the voices of religious and laity are also included. And within this international dialogue, advice will be given to the Pope in how the mission of the Church can continue with renewed zeal while also maintaining the rich treasury of our Faith that has been passed down to us from the time of the Apostles.

Some may interpret this Synod as a way to change the Church in her practices and teachings. Yet as is always the case, we do not look for renewal through an overhaul of what Catholics have always believed. Instead, we seek to reinvigorate the proclamation of the original Gospel message with a freshness that speaks in compelling ways to men and women of every time and culture.

This consultative gathering in Rome may seem distant from our everyday lives, and thus, many Catholics may seem uninterested in this ecclesial event. Yet it is important to share in this moment as a realization that we, as Catholics, belong to a global Church of over 1.3 billion members and that the realities that impact certain members of the Faith affect all of us. As St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” This Body of Christ, made up of all the Church’s members, experiences growth in certain areas and persecution in others. Simultaneously, the pressures upon the Church differ by region in economic and government influence, as well as shifting cultural norms that impact how the Gospel is proclaimed and received. In all of this, the opportunity to lift up the Synod and her delegates in prayer is before us, as we invite the Holy Spirit to strengthen the Church once again in her unity and evangelical zeal.

At the same time, it is also important to realize that our daily engagement with Catholicism is not through synodal gatherings at the Vatican. Rather, our lived experience comes through our personal prayer and sacramental life at home, as well as in the virtuous accompaniment that we offer family members, friends, and coworkers in our quest for holiness. The Church finds her full expression in each local Church, as a bishop gathers with his clergy, religious, and laity to continue the proclamation that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that all are invited to share in the gift of His eternal life. If this local mission and ministry remains strong, the counsel that is brought to international gatherings such as a synod of bishops, will offer a rich and compelling witness to what is possible within Christianity in the twenty-first century. 

As the Synod gets underway in early October in Rome, let us keep the delegates in our prayers so that the Holy Spirit may guide their deliberations. At the same time, let us renew our zeal for the vitality of each local Church, so that whatever advice might come forth from Rome will be incorporated at home in ways already alive to the workings of the grace of God.

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