These documents, along with our own Synod documents and the Scripture readings for today, point to our exploration of what it means to be a synodal church.

During the past week I have been invited into different spaces to look at, ponder and discuss some of the following documents:

  1. Directory for Catechesis – Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation (2020)
  2. Oceania Discernment on the Working Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) (Oceania Document)
  3. International Survey of Catholic Women: Analysis and Report of Key Findings – Tracy McEwan, Kathleen McPhillips & Miriam Pepper (ISCW -Catholic Women Survey

These documents, along with our own Synod documents and the Scripture readings for today, point to our exploration of what it means to be a synodal church. So, as I proclaimed the First Reading for this week’s Sunday Liturgy from Acts 2:42-47, I was drawn to the 30-year diocesan journey of synodality and its connection to this reading. It is from this reading that we get our five pastoral planning foundations:

Identity and Community – the faithful lived together and owned everything in common. Day by day the Lord added to their community.

Worship and Prayer – they went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread. They praised God and were looked up to by everyone.

Formation and Education – the whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.

Mission and Outreach – they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. They shared their food gladly and generously.

Leadership and Structure – the many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone.

Here we have the early faith-filled community of believers who were true to their Jewishness by going to the Temple, and then were true to the memory of Jesus by breaking bread and then going on mission as missionary disciples of Jesus.

Our Gospel reading for the weekend from John 20:19-31, brings us into the locked room with a group of fear-filled disciples, when Jesus appears and says those beautiful words “Peace be with you”. He then says, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you,” before breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

They are commissioned to go out in His name. Interestingly, we then have the scene with Thomas, who was not there, and who claims his disbelief, before Jesus appears again eight days later, once again saying, “Peace be with you” then inviting Thomas to put his finger into his hands and to doubt no longer. It is then that Thomas states this proclamation of faith, “My Lord and my God.”

This draws me to the beautiful hymn we sang by Greg Smith; Peace is What I Leave You:

Peace is what I leave you,
my peace I leave with you.
This is not the peace the world gives,
my peace I leave with you.

Do not let your hearts be troubled,
or let them shrink for fear;
this is not the peace the world gives,
my peace I leave with you.

The many documents I have been exposed to during the past week, have been about faith, belief, unbelief, reimagining, doubts, diversity, unity, evangelisation, discipleship, catechesis, formation, Eucharist, Baptism, Sacraments, power, leadership, people on the margins, integral ecology, the environment, etc.

The DCS names the following priorities and calls to action:

  • Mission
  • Ecological Crisis
  • Church Teaching
  • Becoming More Synodal
  • Authority and Decision-Making
  • Young People
  • Women
  • Formation

I hope you can see the resonance with our many synod conversations over recent years. The voices across the Pacific Region ring out with many similar hopes, dreams, challenges, and call to action. Paragraph 38 from the DCS on the Experience of Synodality states:

On the whole, however, all regions of Oceania saw the DCS as capturing a truly global experience of synodality. This was seen as a welcome direction for the Church’s inner life and mission in the third millennium: “The synodal process of prayerful discernment, spiritual conversation, deep listening, and respect for each person and their views is a powerful process. Most people see synodality as the way to move forward in their own spiritual journey, individually and collectively, and agree with the DCS: ‘In fact, it is the way of being Church. The Holy Spirit is asking us to be synodal [DCS, 3]’” (New Zealand, 15). This positive embrace of synodality is also captured in the report of one diocese of the Pacific: “Reflecting on the Working Document for the Continental Stage, it is clear that the Church needs to make a radical decision to bring a sense of welcome and inclusion among its members, even those outside of the faith. The Synod can be the catalyst … to promote collegiality, unity, and synodality in our Church and society” (Pacific).

And I found that paragraphs 149 and 150 spoke strongly to our readings for this weekend:

Not every bishop found every part of the document wholly convincing or complete, and some had doubts and concerns about where this might be leading us. Jesus appeared to the disciples with their pain, shame, loss and shattered hopes. In the same way, we bishops feel doubts, anxieties and fears about certain parts of this document. We also feel joy and hope. The crucified and risen Christ showed his wounds to his disciples and despite their shame, doubts, and fears, they were filled with joy and hope. His words were “peace be with you”. He invites us bishops to trust in his mercy and proclaim the truth with love, as Jesus did. (149)

In the face of our doubts and fears, Jesus sends us to a broken world. We receive the griefs and anguish, the joys and hopes of the people of Oceania expressed in this document. With trust in the Holy Spirit, we will continue to journey together, people and pastors, as the pilgrim People of God. Jesus Christ is walking with us in our synodal journey, offering us His peace and urging us to have courage. (150)

I hope you are reassured by the words of this weekend’s scripture and by the words I have shared with you from the gathering of Bishops of Oceania and our own diocesan synodal journey. The countries in Oceania are: American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna.

Peace be to you and to the countries of Oceania where each day begins and ends, with the rising of the sun and its setting - note the location of the International Date Line.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.