Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    Faith Matters - Synodality

    Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

    Faith Matters – Synodality 

    As we begin the month of November we are reminded by the liturgical calendar to remember those who have passed away and rest eternally with God. November commences with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. These commemorations draw us deeper into belief of the communion of Saints. We believe that all are one through Baptism, with those who are journeying toward God with works truth and love and with those who live eternally with Him. Drawing upon this theme we should pause this month to reflect upon the connection we have through faith with the living and those who have passed into eternal life. 

    Reflecting upon the theme of the communion of faith I was prompted by of the feast day of St Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) to consider his life and how he might intercede for our needs. Borromeo was born at a time of great change within the Church. As was common at the time he entered clerical studies as a young boy and when only 24 years of age selected by Pope Pius IV for his brilliance (Doctorate in Canon and Civil Law). Borromeo’s organisation was key to the success of the final session of the Council of Trent and his influence is evident in the juridical nature of the teachings. Borromeo was then ordained Archbishop of Milan 1564. 

    His vision for his episcopal see was prophetic. Borromeo acted as a bishop should according to the teachings of Trent. He went out and visited every community in his diocese. He listened to all of the people and was astute in his evaluation of each parish. After listening he discerned a pathway for each parish and then set his priests to work on achieving this vision. Borromeo improving the outcomes greatly by providing training, adequate funding, pastoral care and importantly accountability for those who failed to live according to their vows. Through this process of synodality he was able to respond in new ways to problems that were intergenerational. His example set the bar for the Church and over time his ministry and leadership became the bench mark for authentic leadership in the ‘modern’ Church.

    Borromeo’s vision and actions changed the Church forever. In fact, other than a regression to authoritarianism in the early twentieth century the Synodal approach and its fruits were foundational to St John XXIII’s decision to convene Vatican II. More recently Pope Francis has furthered this approach and uses the synodal approach as his default method of leadership. He has held synods for and with families, victims of clerical abuse, young people and recently the synod of bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. Synodal leadership requires discernment and courage. 

    The Pan-Amazon synod has opened up new conversations to resolve difficult problems in new ways. The recommendations from the synod include the extension of previous teachings about the discipline of celibacy, so that married men may be ordained in distant regions where priests are not present. The recommendations also seek to reopen the exploration of female leadership and ordination as deacons to further assist with the lack of priests. These two points have cause much debate globally and are yet to be considered and responded to by Pope Francis.

    It takes courage to listen to others and respond to their needs with genuine openness and authentic discernment. Borromeo’s actions proved that this approach is the better way. Synodality seeks to identify and respond to the underlying need most effectively and encourages innovation and thus growth. In 2020 the Bishops of the Church in Australia will meet and at the Plenary Council as a final component of a synodal framework that has to date heard over 222,000 people. The insights and suggestions offered thus far have been distilled to the following six themes for discernment, which will guide the discussions at the council. 

    1. Missionary and evangelising. 

    2. Inclusive, participatory and synodal.

    3. Prayerful and Eucharistic.

    4. Humble, healing and merciful.

    5. A joyful, hope-fillled and servant community.

    6. Open to conversion, renewal and reform.

    As the discernment phase of the Plenary Council continues we might pause to consider how synodality has become a gift from Borromeo to the Church. Listening to the people rather than a leadership group illustrates humility and requires courage. By knowing the needs and opinions of those to be served the response to their challenges can be complete. As we remember those who rest with God in November we should remember fondly St Charles Borromeo whose life and legacy are inspirational and continue to bear fruit in our Church today.

    As we reflect and remember this month, we should also consider the future. I encourage you to spend time considering the six themes being discerned within the Australian Church currently and how your thoughts and opinions might help the Church find new ways to respond to unique local concerns. 

    Yours in Christ,

    Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator

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