I do this with the sound of the World Cricket in the background and thinking about the giftedness of the cricketers who are about to play each other. These thoughts resonate with our readings for the 33rd Sunday of the liturgical year where we have the servants who invested their talents and the one who did not. We hear the words; “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things; I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”
This sets the scene for my sharing aspects coming from Part III of the Synthesis Report, A Synodal Church in Mission, from the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
The heading for Part III is Weaving Bonds, Building Communities.
This is broken up into seven sections:
- A Synodal Approach to Formation
- Ecclesial Discernment and Open Questions
- Towards a Listening and Accompanying Church
- Mission in the Digital Environment
- Structures for Participation
- Groupings of Churches within the Communion of the Whole Church
- The Synod of Bishops and Ecclesial Assemblies
This part spoke strongly about synodality and the need for our formation in this as a way of being church. It begins with the following words:
Every baptised person is called to take care of their own formation as a response to the gifts of the Lord, making use of the talents they have received in order that they bear fruit and put them at the service of all. The time the Lord has dedicated to the formation of His disciples reveals the importance of this ecclesial formation.
For 30 years this diocese has taken seriously our need for formation and education. Thankfully, the Sisters of St Joseph, Lochinvar began the Tenison Woods Education Centre (TWEC) in 1994 in response to the Diocesan Synod of 1992/93. Apart from the Christian Formation Course, which is still being offered, they ran many opportunities for people around our parishes to be educated and formed in their faith. They gave generously of their time, talent, and treasure, ensuring that disciples of Jesus Christ were not only formed but grew in their faith understanding. Many of these people, while now older, are still actively engaged in their parish communities because of this encounter and their response.
The Formation and Education Foundation within Pastoral Ministries continues that ministry of providing formation opportunities for those who seek it. Once again, the words from the Response document:
Formation for a synodal Church needs to be undertaken synodally: the entire People of God being formed together as they journey together. There is a need to overcome the ‘delegation’ mindset found in so many areas of pastoral ministry. Formation in a synodal key is meant to enable the People of God to live out their baptismal vocation fully, in the family, in the workplace, in ecclesial, social, and intellectual spheres. It is meant to enable each person to participate actively in the Church's mission according to his or her own charisms and vocation. (Section 14, para. (f))
This formation and training of the People of God takes place in the following circumstances:
In addition to theological formation, the Assembly requested training in specific skills: the exercise of co-responsibility, listening, and discernment; conducting ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, service to the poorest and care for our common home; engagement as "digital missionaries", facilitation of discernment processes, Conversation in the Spirit, consensus-building and conflict resolution. Particular attention should also be given to catechetical formation of children and young people, which should involve the active participation of the community. (Section 14, para.(e))
As I read this, I can hear echoes of the past 30 years of the diocesan synodal journey and yet we still struggle with this as a way of being, and doing, church. In an article I read this week, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe indicated that synodality can only be learnt by experiencing it. I believe that to be true and yet so many don’t engage with this ongoing invitation.
We are all lifelong learners which requires us to expose ourselves to experiences of formation, education, and training.
Matters that are controversial within the church are covered in the section on Ecclesial Discernment and Open Questions. I found this following paragraph to be helpful:
At the heart of many of these controversial matters lies the question of the relationship between love and truth and the impact this has on many controversial matters. This relationship, before being considered a challenge, is actually to be considered as a grace revealed in Christ. For Jesus brought to fulfilment the promise found in the psalms: "Love and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall embrace. Truth will sprout from the earth and justice will come forth from heaven" (Ps 85:11-12). (para. (d))
The path of accompaniment was spoken about several times in this Part of the Response. Being deeply listened to is an experience of affirmation and recognition of dignity, and is a powerful way of engaging people and communities. Authentic listening is a fundamental element of the path to healing, repentance, justice and reconciliation. I have no doubt that people are seeking out a place to call home, where they can feel safe, be heard and respected without fear of feeling judged.
The synodal process was and is a time of grace which encourages us. God is offering us the opportunity to experience a new culture of synodality, capable of guiding the life and mission of the Church. (Section 20, para (b))
As members of the faithful people of God, all the baptised are co-responsible for mission, each according to his or her vocation, competence and experience. (Section 18, para. (a))
I think we continue to struggle with this cultural shift of the co-responsible sharing of gifts as we read in this weekend’s Gospel. We have been given the responsibility to grow our talents and yet many have not been encouraged or have been rejected and have become frustrated and given up. Leaders have an incredible responsibility to recognise and seek out the gifts in others, and to foster them, form them and journey with them for the good of the whole. God’s mission is everyone’s responsibility.
The woman in the reading from the book of Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-29, 30-31, is praised for her creativity, wisdom, goodness, strength, sense of justice, generosity, joy, and faith.
Let’s keep looking around, listening deeply, encouraging others to use their gifts by accompanying them with our growing understanding of synodality, of journeying with them, for the building of God’s reign.
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