Here is an article I wrote for our Northwest Catholic Magazine which appeared yesterday, giving an early reflection on my experience at the Synod this recent October.
Note: The Synod on Synodality began two years ago when Pope Francis requested the consultation of all the baptized. Beginning at the parish level and continuing through the synod’s various stages, the universal church listened to the people of God about their experience of faith and Church. That feedback was condensed into a working document that provided the questions for prayer, discussion and discernment at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The following is Archbishop Etienne’s reflection on being a synod delegate.
In early October, all 365 synod delegates from around the world gathered to pray and discuss how to become the Body of Christ more perfectly in the world today, in order to carry out the mission entrusted to us by Christ.
We started with a three-day retreat, and then returned to Rome to work for the next 25 days. The predominant group of delegates were bishops, with a good representation of men and women religious and lay men and women, including several young adults and a permanent deacon. Pope Francis sat among us for several sessions. Also included were many experts, theologians and canon lawyers as well as trained facilitators for 30-plus tables of small group discussions.
The Holy Spirit was invoked to inspire, guide and animate our discussions and discernment.Eucharist, prayer and the word of God were at the heart of our work, which was primarily conversations, infused with prayer and intense listening to each other. The baptized of every state of life, people from many cultures and languages and diverse opinions, experiences and ecclesiology sat together, building relationships and speaking to the issues of our time. While there were sometimes difficult exchanges, there was an abiding respect for each person and their perspective.
Our time together was a powerful experience of Christ in our midst, and one could catch glimpses of God’s kingdom striving to break forth.
One of the parables Jesus used to teach about the Kingdom of God comes to mind as a way to share my experience of the synod: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind” (Matthew 13:47).
This “net” is made up of our many different relationships, beginning with the relationship of the the person of Jesus, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis has written powerfully of the importance of our relationships — from Evangelii Gaudium, calling us to renew our relationship with God, to Fratelli Tutti, instructing close attention to our relationships with one another as brothers and sisters of one human family, to Laudato Si, warning of the urgent need to be attentive to our relationship with God’s creation.
The synod was an experience of Christ calling this vastly diverse group together to build bonds of relationships, human and divine. Each relationship creates another link in the fabric of this net, which all the baptized create. Linked together in truth and love, Christ casts this net into the sea of humanity, to gather all into one, according to the divine will of God.
Jesus called some of his first apostles from their boat, where they were “mending their nets.” The consultation phase initiating this synod indicates that the net of the Church needs tending, even mending.
What we experienced in the synod was a grace-filled moment that tells us it is possible to mend the net, with the grace of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to have difficult discussions, which may not resolve differences but can create a “holy space” for the creativity of the Spirit to act, surfacing new possibilities for faithfully carrying out the mission of the Church in the world today.