Saturday, October 17, 2015
JUST WHAT DOES SYNODALTY MEAN AS POPE FRANCIS ENVISIONS IT?
Back in the 1970's and until his retirement, Bishop Raymond Lessard had a diocesan pastoral council made of two laity from each of our seven deaneries. I believe he met with them four times a year. He listened to them and asked them to assist him in his pastoral plans and ministry. I hated seeing this council disappear after his retirement.
He also established a diocesan finance council primarily of laity with expertise and other committees to assist with this, that and the other.
As well we have priests' councils (presbyteral councils) so the bishop can listen to the voices of his priests and our experiences in parishes. Hopefully this helps him in his plans and programs and ministry.
On the parish level, we've had pastoral councils since the 1960's and finance councils as well. I meet monthly with our pastoral council and listen to them and ask them to assist in the pastoral planning and programs of the parish. The finance council I could not do without!
Part of synodalty in my understanding of it is subsidiarity. What can be accomplished on the lowest level should be accomplished there. I am quite happy to have our bishop and his pastoral staff almost 200 miles away. We can do well with simply support, guidelines that are known and an expectation that we will follow canon law, diocesan policy and be faithful the the faith, morals and liturgy the Church has given us.
In terms of a more decentralized Church, it seems to me that what the Holy Father says is true of the Pope, the Supreme Pastor of the Church but more importantly the Bishop of Rome is true of all bishops and bishops' conferences which most countries have had since the 1970's:
“The Synod of Bishops,” continued Pope Francis, “is the convergence point of this dynamism – this listening conducted at all levels of Church life,” starting with the people, who “also participate in Christ’s prophetic office” and who have a right and a duty to be heard on topics that touch the common life of the Church.
Then come the Synod Fathers, through whom, “[T]he bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which [they] must be able carefully to distinguish from often shifting public opinion.”
In all this, the Successor to Peter is fundamental. “Finally,” explained Pope Francis, “the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called upon to speak authoritatively [It. pronunciare] as ‘Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians’: not on the basis of his personal beliefs, but as the supreme witness of the Faith of the whole Church, the guarantor of the Church’s conformity with and obedience to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of the Church.”
Individual bishops, bishops' conferences and the synods of the pope cannot veer from what the Church holds as true, all must give supreme witness of the Faith of the whole Church, and conform with obedience to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of the Church."
I would hold also, that pastoral councils and the various committees of parish must do the same.
All this strengthens the Church when the laity along with the clergy and the bishop of the Church take ownership of the Deposit of Faith and hand on Scripture and Tradition as well as natural law.
If I hear from the laity that the majority of Catholics in my parish don't believe in transubstantiation and that a significant number of laity are desecrating the sacrament, this would be a wake-up call to me to teach more forcefully the Church's teaching on these subjects not to throw in the towel and say, oh well, this is what they believe, and if what they believe and how they live are contrary to the Deposit of Faith so be it, let me follow their lead. No we are called to fidelity, fidelity, fidelity!
The signs of the times, though,would be so many have apostatized from the faith? Why? Poor catechisis? Poor family life? Lack of education? We have to discern and then move forward.