TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Walking together

On the feast of St Mary MacKillop, 8 August 2019, Bishop Bill convoked our diocesan synod, to be held over three sessions in November 2019, November 2020 and November 2021.  It would take place in association with our National Plenary Council 2020-2022.

On 29 November 2019 some four hundred people gathered at Hamilton for the first session of the synod, and in line with the themes emerging from the Plenary Council consultation, we were asked to consider the question: 

As disciples of Christ, what needs to happen in our hearts and in our minds and in our community for us to be a Christ-centred Church that is:

  • Missionary and evangelising
  • Inclusive, participatory and synodal
  • Humble, healing and merciful
  • Prayerful and Eucharistic
  • Joyful, hope-filled and servant community
  • Open to conversion, renewal and reform

Unfortunately COVID restrictions throughout 2020 caused the planned second session of the synod to be postponed until May 2021, and some people have been asking, “What is happening about the Synod?” 

Regular readers of Tuesdays with Teresa, and those who have accessed our Synod website www.domnsynod.com.au, would be aware that in fact a great deal has been happening ‘behind the scenes’ in the intervening months, with countless Zoom meetings of the Synod Working Party and of its various Focus Groups, and the development of a range of resources for use during the synod process about:

  • The nature and purpose of the Synod, its membership and procedures
  • The historical timeline of events leading up to this synod
  • The role of the Synod Working Party and its Focus Groups
  • The appointment, role and responsibilities of delegates to the Synod
  • A timeline of Plenary Council and Synod events planned for 2021 and 2022
  • The Diocesan Reflection Program to be held over the weeks of Lent 2021
  • Reflection Days with Bishop Bill during the Easter Season.

As background reading for the Diocesan Reflection Program, resource materials have been prepared on the ‘Five Foundations’ of our life and mission as a community of Jesus followers, viz.  Identity and Community; Worship and Prayer;  Formation and Education;  Mission and Outreach; Leadership and Structure.  These resources, now available on the synod website, include, for each Foundation: 

  • Our Story about the development of the relevant foundation in our diocesan community.
  • Foundational Statements reminding us of the principles underlying that foundation.
  • Concerns summarising the relevant issues raised by our diocesan respondents to the Plenary Council Listening and Dialogue Session as well as those who submitted written responses at the first session of our Diocesan Synod in November 2019.
  • Recommendations suggesting what could be done to address the issues raised.

While there will be two formal sessions of the Synod this year involving delegates from every parish, school, diocesan agency, organisation and group, I believe the processes that take place before and between each session are in fact more important that the formal sessions. 

That is because the process of ‘synodality’ is based on accepting and living the presence of the Holy Spirit at work within the community of Jesus’ followers, as he promised (cf. Jn 15:26). 

As Pope Francis has explained in his recent book, Let Us Dream. The Path to a Better Future[i],  “Synodality starts with hearing from the whole People of God.  ... we obey a principle that was dear to the Church of the first millennium: Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet (What affects all should be discussed by all)”.

In examining and reflecting on the issues and concerns that have been raised within our diocese there will Inevitably be differences amongst us, and the challenge will be to listen to the Holy Spirit working within the minds and hearts of our people.  To quote Pope Francis again:

The term Synodality comes from the Greek syn-odos, “walking together,’ and this is its goal: not so much to forge agreement as to recognize, honour, and reconcile differences on a higher plane where the best of each can be retained.

In the dynamic of a synod, differences are expressed and polished until you reach, if not consensus, a harmony that holds on to the sharp notes of its differences. This is what happens in music: with seven different musical notes with their sharps and flats a harmony is created that allows for the better articulation of the singularities of each note. Therein lies its beauty: the harmony that results can be complex, rich, and unexpected. In the Church the one who brings about that harmony is the Holy Spirit.

Referring to Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis goes on to say,

I like to see the beginning of ecclesial synodality in the early Church when the apostles gathered to wrestle with a question that divided them: should non-Jewish people be bound by Jewish laws and customs such as circumcision when they become Christian?

After discussion and prayer and some bitter disagreement, they pondered the way that God had worked signs and wonders among them through the Gentiles, for God is recognized in the experience of real life.

They declared that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) not to impose on non-Jewish Christians the regulations of Jewish law.

It was a new opening that changed the course of history. ...

The synod experience allows us to walk together not just in spite of our differences, but seeking the truth and taking on the richness of the polar tensions at stake. Many breakthroughs have happened in councils and assemblies throughout the Church's history. But what matters most is that harmony that enables us to move forward together on the same path, even with all our shades of difference.

In discussing the nature of synodality Pope Francis even mentioned our own National Plenary Council, saying,

It delights me to see how the Church in different countries is embarking on processes that put the synod method into practice. In Australia, for example, they have a process going on over several years that involves hundreds of thousands of people, asking how they as a Church can be more inclusive, merciful, and prayerful, and more open to conversion, renewal, and mission.

Those of us who have been involved in planning for this year’s synod process sincerely hope that as many people as possible will study the resources that have been prepared, participate in the Reflection Program during Lent,  provide feedback to Synod delegates, and join in the post-Easter reflection days.

In the words of Bishop Bill’s convocation decree,  

The synod is not simply an event, nor is it simply an assembly of people. It is a process by which the people of God walk together a journey trying to respond more fully to God. Very frequently synods are convened for a special purpose, one particular issue. But this one that we will hold is like the Second Vatican Council convened more generally to examine, reflect on the state of the church, the faith of Christ among us, and to find ways to more faithfully fulfil our calling to be the body of Christ and the witness to his Gospel and his salvation in our community around us.

Let us pray that in the coming months our whole diocesan community will respond to the invitation to be involved and will walk together generously and wholeheartedly on this synodal journey.

[i] Let Us Dream. The Path to a Better Future,  Pope Francis in conversation with Austen Ivereigh, Simon and Schuster London 2020

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