The Synod 2021-2023: what is it?

Pope Francis will open the new global Synod next week on 9 October. The diocesan phase, involving ALL of us, is due to start on 17 October 2021. As we go to press, we still await information and guidance as to how our own Plymouth Diocese phase will be carried out, but will update you as and when.

Meanwhile, the Synod has already sparked some strong and controversial opinions across our Church. The success of the Synod depends in no small part on our willingness to be informed, and to participate actively in the process. This PORTICO 50 Special Edition hopes to help you do that, and can be downloaded from this site.

Synodality: what is it? The word “synod translates as “journeying together” – A journey that reveals how God’s Word, and the people who heed and put their faith in that Word, journey together. The Word of God journeys with us. Everyone has a part to play; no one is a mere extra.

Question: the main question that we are asked to consider is: How is our “walking together” in synodality realized today in the Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “walking together”? 

The question is HOW, not whether we should. We are NOT asked to express our views on all the existing issues that exist within the Church today – sex abuse, married priests, women priests, sexuality, the Liturgy, reception of Holy Communion, etc etc. 

Instead, we are asked to focus on something that maybe sits underneath all of the above and shapes the environment within which we can address and fix these issues: that is, – how do we live, work and make decisions as a church?

GOAL: “In this Synod, we want to get to the point where we can say, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, for, guided by the Holy Spirit, you will be in constant dialogue among yourselves, but also in dialogue with the Holy Spirit” 

Discernment: a Rough Guide

The Pope calls on us all to participate in discerning how best to realise synodality in the church. So what is “discernment”, this term that has gained currency? 

In many ways it has been a feature the church in the earliest times. and continues particularly in Jesuit spirituality. St Paul refers to “distinguishing between spirits” (Corinthians) while for St Ignatius, it is about “desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.” 

So the process is about finding the voice of the Spirit of God  speaking to us in the ordinary and practical details of our lives, amongst the clamour of all other voices. It is not just an intellectual exercise, but a profoundly spiritual one. We draw on insights from all our human philosophy and sciences, our social and church norms – but  at the same time we transcend them, leaving ourselves genuinely open to hear and listen to what the Lord says to us in a variety of ways.

Discernment, as a process taught and practised, therefore requires prolonged prayer in dialogue with God, openness, a sincere examination of conscience and a detachment from self. Through these, we strive for an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind so we can approach the mystery of God, to help us carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of all our brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis suggested a series of steps or questions we can apply to test the authenticity of our own discernment, here. (3 May 2020)

More recently, discernment in groups as well as individuals has become more commonplace, and the synodal process is perhaps trying for a global exercise in discernment by all the faithful.

(This Rough Guide is based on the briefing for an experimental workshop on Group Discernment held by the Truro Men’s Retreat group, during lockdown).

If anyone is interested to learn more about discernment, either individually or together, please contact THE PORTICO.

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