In 2021, Pope Francis invited the whole Church to a discussion of synodality. If the word takes you by surprise, you’re not alone. While the concept of synod, or church council, is not new, you won’t find synodality in a secular dictionary. The term was chosen by Pope Francis, whose papacy has often focused on evangelization. With synodality, the Pope is carefully placing evangelization into the hands of the Church’s people. From now until 2023, the pursuit of synodality calls Catholics to get together, to talk and listen, and to love and learn in a deliberate effort to move closer to Christ and the Church.
On Tuesday, January 18, I was a humble participant in a synodal conversation with more than 90 clergy and lay leaders from parishes in one pastoral zone of the Catholic Diocese of Calgary. We met via Zoom to talk about Pope Francis’s vision and to meet the Diocesan team who spent months preparing for a host of virtual gatherings. After the pastoral zone meetings are done in early February, similar e-meets (and in-person whenever possible) will be held with lay Catholics. I plan to participate again.
Bishop William McGrattan is optimistic that all of these prayerful discussions will shape the Church’s mission of service and proclamation of the gospel. Based on my experience, and several conversations the next day, I think he has reason to be hopeful. Why? Because we can’t un-spill milk.
Relationships require understanding
Almost 30 years ago, my husband and I participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend. One of my biggest takeaways was the notion that healthy relationships require that we understand that it is impossible to un-spill milk. What’s happened matters. What happens next is even more important.
I take that same concept into discussions of my experience with the universal Church. I won’t discuss confidential information shared as part of the synodal conversation. (Organizers did a great job of breaking us out into smaller groups.) I will say that I think it matters that Catholics, including lay members, are being asked, “How have you experienced journeying together as the Church?”
For some of us, the question is fraught and the answers uncomfortable. But just like you cannot un-spill milk, I’m confident that a prayerful people, guided by the Holy Spirit, will not be able to unknow what they hear at meetings like these. Information changes people. It shapes new discussions. More than anything else, it demands care.
In addition to being asked about our personal experience of the journey “as Church,” synodal participants are being asked what steps the Holy Spirit is inviting “us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’” Again, I think that’s a valuable question as it puts action back into the hand of the Church’s people.
In addition to gathering information about these two questions, the very process strengthens the relationships fundamental to our parish communities. Several participants told me (or my editor) that they appreciated the opportunity to gather with people they know; an opportunity complicated by the global pandemic, yet aided by technology and, most obviously, the Holy Spirit.
More importantly, feedback to me implies people felt empowered by the prayers and the discussions. They are already talking about their synodal experiences with Catholic peers. They are encouraging others to take part. Like Bishop McGrattan, they are hopeful. I take comfort in that hope, fueled as it is by two other theological virtues, faith and love.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully. Joy Gregory is a writer, cradle Catholic, and long-time parishioner of St. Peter’s, Calgary, where she’s been active in preschool catechism programs, RCIA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers