Guest Columnists

Synod Invitations: Come Listen, Come Speak

By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD

Pope Francis has convoked the Church to prepare for a Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome in 2023. The theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” There will be a two-year preparatory program, called a “synodal process” — which basically means a universal reflection on how we have journeyed together, learning from real-life experiences, and how we should journey farther forward.

What I have seen so far on this “Synod on Synodality” is a symphony of surprises. The first surprise for me is the topic itself. “Synodality” is a new term not even registered yet in dictionaries. This new concept may have been defined already, but it still has many loose ends needing further determinations.

I like the first declaration of Pope Francis in his speech to open the synodal process — closing floodgates of misinterpretation. He reiterated that the “Synod is not a parliament or an opinion poll; the Synod is an ecclesial event, and its protagonist is the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is not present, there will be no Synod.”

Another surprise is the plan for a worldwide listening to many of the faithful, especially the poorest and the voiceless in the peripheries.

Marveling at the synodal prospects, I could imagine that we will continue to be surprised. I would compare this to the most famous musical composition of Maurice Ravel, the “Bolero,” played in reverse. Connoisseurs of classical music know that the “Bolero” is a movement from one musical instrument to another, then building up to a full orchestral blast. The synod would be the reverse because it starts with a full blast of symphony, then winds down to one voice, and that would be by the Holy Father.

A story is told that, at the premiere performance of the “Bolero,” Ravel heard of an unpleasant review — namely, that he must be mad. The French composer wisely remarked that the critic must have understood the piece. I think we can say the same thing about the synodal process — that it may appear “mad,” because a process of such magnitude has never been done before. The madness of a global listening to those who have been unheard: What a phenomenon of surprises that would be!

The synodal process is not the usual from-top-to-bottom movement; it is rather from the bottom to the top. There will be a contemplation of the beautiful face of Jesus Christ reflected on ordinary men and women with very diverse and real concerns, from different origins and cultures. The face of Christ will be contemplated not in the perspective of the great theologians and mystics, but from its distinct splendor in the joys and tears of many ordinary folks.

Among many surprises, I would like to mention this last one. The relator of the synod revealed that the instrumentum laboris, or working paper, for the synod is empty, as in blank and clean. Clearly, the method followed is a participatory discernment, building up from personal faith experiences and from the dynamics of community, living the faith together.

In the end, the big surprise should be that the ordinary faithful will feel they are part of the Church who listens to them — and that the Church is surprisingly relevant to our times.

Msgr. Achacoso is the author of ‘Due Process in Church Administration’ (2018), recipient of Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican City), and Administrator of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside, NY.

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