The Archdiocese of Liverpool has lately undertaken its own Synodal journey, before there was any intimation of the process just begun with respect to the 2023 meeting of the Synod of Bishops. It was waylaid to an extent by the COVID-19 pandemic, but nevertheless reached its conclusion. The recommendations of the Synod process can be read here; but I can't resist feeling a touch of irony that the actioning of these recommendations has now been entrusted to a pastoral planning team, which will prepare a pastoral plan due for publication by the first Sunday of Advent.
Over the last few days, I have found this post a thought provoking read: Synod Diary 1. I do have complete faith in Pope Francis' intentions with regard to the journey towards the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in 2023, and my most recent post suggests how I have understood that intention (as distinct from the way in which the BBC reported it). In particular, I think we should recognise the seriousness of Pope Francis' notion of "discernment" (cf Pope Francis' Jesuit background) and the seriousness of his understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in that discernment (cf Pope Francis engagement with the Charismatic Renewal).
I do, however, share the hesitation expressed in Synod Diary 1:
A synod about itself is like asking the question: what the hell are we doing, doing what we’re doing? Fair enough, I ask this question every morning brushing my teeth. It isn’t the question that worries me but, rather, who else will be asking it. My utter faith in those raising it extends as far as Pope Francis himself and no further. I think I understand his perspective on this, (EG #262-280). Notwithstanding that beautiful Spirit without which (as Pope Francis has warned) the Synod will be dead, I believe there’s still a massive problem.
What if the combined Magisterium might be more than a little like those JWs? As the Pope clearly senses. If you assume it was God who elected you, why would you listen to any mere mortal who might question whether you’re the right person to be asking the questions in the first place, or editing the responses, or being the appropriate representative voice for the answers? If the Spirit blows where He wills, why assume it’s always from your direction? Unless, of course, it’s actually about power and control.
With all the stomach churning scandal of sexual abuse, incompetent complicity and calculated cover-ups, the chilling truth is: we don’t very often walk together – decision-makers and disempowered, barely accountable shepherds and disaffected sheep. In the current moment, this Synod runs the terrible risk of being an exercise in the infuriatingly obvious: another non-conversation masquerading as conversation. And the obviously infuriating: sold back to us as representative voice.
What if a Synod concluding in clerical conversations is, in fact, not the answer and the whole process should be reversed: with lay discernment over the synthesised reflections of the bishops being presented to the Pope? If it’s really a question of change and of a different Church, isn’t it time to start trusting the gift of prophecy that also resides at the heart of the lay faithful, (CCC 91-94)? Where now is the true and trusted voice to be found?
At the end of the day, I suspect that anything resulting from the Synodal journey that might impact on my Christian life is something I could be getting on with anyway. Indeed, my wrestling with the notion of "synodality" has concluded that it is about lay people being better lay people, priests being better priests and bishops being better bishops, and each seeking to live out fully their office in the Church. I therefore find it difficult to muster any motivation to commit time and effort to the process. Synod Diary 1 expresses this more strongly, with the anxiety about the role of (the bureaucracy) of episcopal conferences reflecting my own sense, though I might want to express a recognition of at least good intentions:
I love the Church in my bones, but I’m bone-tired with an unheeding, self-referential institution. Popes Benedict and Francis have asked us to set aside cynicism for the sake of mission and, by God, I’ve heard their call. But if the episcopal conferences are the conduits for the message then God help us. That’s a prayer, by the way.
There’s only so many times those smiley people can come a-knocking and pretending to listen, with their misplaced certainties and pat, glossy pamphlets, before you really do decide that your open mind is far better developed behind your unopened door.
And not because you don’t care, but because you know it makes absolutely no difference to the result