The long-awaited ‘synod on synodality’ finally kicks off on Wednesday 4 October—the 16th such assembly of the world’s bishops since the Synod of Bishops was instituted in 1965. The theme for this synod is For a synodal Church: communion, participation, mission. In August, Townsville priest and associate professor at ACU Fr Ormond Rush reflected on the notion of synodality in a video released by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
‘Some people sort of say, well, this is just trying to get public opinion,’ Fr Rush says, acknowledging some of the concerns surrounding the synod. But he stressed, ‘It’s not a survey. It’s not taking a census of the People of God and then saying the majority rules. It’s not majority rules.’
When gathering in Rome, the synod will have to discern their questions ‘in the light of the Gospel, in the light of the Church’ and in the light of ‘what the Church has taught in the past’.
Fr Rush points to four things that can help us gain a fuller appreciation of the concept of synodality in the mind of Pope Francis.
First, Fr Rush says, synodality is about being led by the Holy Spirit. He points to Pope Francis’ love of the Book of Revelation and the seven letters that St John is commanded to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Each of the letters includes this line: ‘Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ (3:22).
‘The Holy Spirit inspires the [Church] to receive Christ faithfully and live the Gospel in this context, at this time, with all its particular problems,’ Fr Rush explains. ‘The Church must be Christ-centred and Spirit-led, and the notion of synodality brings to the fore the importance of the Holy Spirit in the Church.’
Second, synodality stresses the significance of local churches. ‘At Vatican II,’ Fr Rush says, ‘there was this rediscovery of the importance of the local church and local bishop.’
The Church in Melbourne—it’s the Catholic Church here in Melbourne, but in communion with all the other churches around.
‘Synodality wants to listen to the experience of local churches,’ he says.
Third, once again drawing on key themes of the Second Vatican Council, Fr Rush says that synodality highlights everyone’s participation in the life of the Church. ‘We are all called to holiness. All the baptised are called to holiness, to be agents of the mission of the Church, wherever you are—in your workplace, in your family … That’s where the Church is at work in the world.’
Finally, synodality emphasises the need for dialogue. This is where Fr Rush explains that synodality is not a matter of census-taking. ‘God continues to speak … God continues to dialogue with the Church through the Holy Spirit as the Church journeys through history,’ he says. And because one of the ways in which God speaks is through the whole People of God—even through the ‘ordinary’ people of faith—being able to sit down even with those we disagree with is an important act of listening to what the Holy Spirit might be saying.
‘That doesn’t mean that every individual person is infallible,’ he goes on, ‘but it does mean that the Spirit works through all.’
Melbourne Catholic27 September 2023
Melbourne Catholic26 May 2022