By Peter J. Ductrám
Special to The Texas Catholic
There is a term we have heard more and more within the Church communities and in recent media coverage, synodality. The term synodality refers to the ancient practice of the Church living the Gospel as pilgrim people of God. This practice, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is dual: within her structures (ad intra), and with those who do not share our faith (ad extra).
Ad intra refers to the internal practice of welcoming, honoring, and celebrating the wealth of charisms and contributions of all the baptized regardless of their (dis)ability, economic status, academic achievements, language, or citizenship status. Ad extra refers to the intentional relations of the Church with other faiths and social structures in finding common ground to life.
His Holiness Pope Francis is inviting the universal Church to begin reflecting and dialoguing on how well have we contributed to that practice of being Church. This intentional prayer is an ancient practice of the Church known as synod. A dialogue that is rooted in prayer attentive to the Spirit of God who speaks in each one of us. It is a dialogue that goes beyond brainstorming for a set of goals, conclusions, or consensus but to discern within the community of faith the calling of the Spirit of God. This communal discernment process in itself is the beauty of the synodal process, for it calls the baptized to listen attentively, participate actively, and pray with confidence.
When the Church calls herself as a Pilgrim People of God, she intends to highlight the primacy of God’s grace. We are called into union with God and union with one another through the Church as we journey in faith (ref. Lumen Gentium 1, Catechism of the Catholic Church 752). This means that our lives, particularly our lives of faith, are never stagnant but always part of our journey together with one another and with God. It takes work to embark on this journey and God continually sends the Holy Spirit to aid us as we work together on this pilgrimage (ref. LG 9).
A Synod is an Instrument of Communal Discernment
Discernment is the process of attentively listening to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This discernment during the synodal process is communal because it calls for all the baptized to gather as one community and work together to discern how the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst. It is important to know that this process has more to do with the Church’s pastoral practice than her teaching.
A Synod is an Instrument of Unity
The beauty of the People of God is that we are a diverse church and our strength lies in our rich diversity rooted in our one Lord. We come together as one united community of faith, with our diverse charisms, abilities, spiritualities, cultures, and languages.
A Synod is an Instrument of Communion
A synod is an opportunity to bring forth the rich gifts and varied experiences we have in our community and offer those experiences in an effort of true communion with one another. We can only have communion with one another if we trust in the Spirit who inspires and calls everyone. Therefore, we must be open to the gifts and experiences of others, really ready to listen to the work of God occurring in each person’s life. This synodal experience of communion is also demonstrated in our communion with our Shepherd, the Bishop as the successor of the Apostles, who is in communion with the vicar of Christ, the Pope.
Peter J. Ductrám is the senior director of ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.