Pope Francis has changed the way the synod of bishops operates. He’s making it more open, encouraging the delegates to express their opinions freely and he has ended some of the long speeches in favour of small group discussions.
He has repeatedly referred to wanting a more “synodal church,” a church which encourages dialogue and listening.
And when the bishops in Rome marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the synod of bishops by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 17, Pope Francis kept pushing his vision of a synodal church “at every level.”
His view of a synodal church is one in which everyone listens to one another, learns from one another and takes responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel. “The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his church in the third millennium,” he said. “A synodal church is a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”
The pope must have disturbed some synodal delegates when he said: “The sensus fidei (sense of faith) makes it impossible to rigidly separate the ecclesia docens (teaching church) and the ecclesia discens (learning church) because even the flock has a ‘nose’ for discerning the new paths that the Lord is opening up to the church.” This certainly expands the teaching of the First Vatican Council on infallibility.
The Second Vatican Council was a watershed moment in encouraging more participation from the laity in the mission of the church. It taught that through baptism and confirmation all members of the church have been anointed by the Holy Spirit and that the entire Christian community is infallible when its members discern together and speak with one voice on matters of faith and morals, Pope Francis said in his anniversary address.
A synodal spirit must be at work in dioceses as well as in the universal church, he said. This applies to priests’ councils, pastoral councils and other consultative bodies in a diocese.
Not all priests and bishops are “synodally-minded,” as is Pope Francis. It will take time for this to become standard practice. And not all the faithful are synodally-minded. Some parishes have difficulty getting parishioners to serve on parish councils or join parish groups where their voices could be heard.
Pope Francis is strongly pushing a new vision of how a community of faith should interact and operate. He is strongly pushing us to promote an adult faith. He is strongly pushing us to become servants as Jesus taught by word and deed. He is strongly pushing us to have a heart as generous as God’s.
If we take the next step with him, what a legacy he will leave with us.