You and the Synod on Synodality! More than a mouthful of words?

by Sr. Mary Ann Zimmer, ND

If you find this phrase a mystery, you are not alone! Vocabulary can present an insurmountable barrier in official Catholic writing. Do not despair; this one is not that hard. We are all familiar with councils of various kinds, advisory, governing, elected, etc. Gatherings of Bishops in councils have been vital to the church since its early days. Early on Greek and Latin were the predominant languages in this work. Latin used “council,” Greek “synod” to name these gatherings of bishops (and sometimes lay people) working together.

Synodality is the other mystery word—the most important one. As Pope Francis expresses it, synodality is an attitude and a resultant behavior the involves looking for God’s will for the church through a process of dialogue. It presumes intimate familiarity with the Gospels, the realities of church life, and the needs of the world. It is assumed that every participant has prepared spiritually and practically. One must be ready to listen with an open mind to the other participants. One must be courageous in presenting, humbly and peaceably, the views one brings from one’s own prayer and life experience. One must have a broad view of the realities of the church and world so the voices and needs of those on the margins are given a prominent place. One must be willing to undertake necessary course corrections when one inevitably falls short of this demanding form of dialogue.

Not only can all of us understand the synod– all of us can participate. More on that later.

Participants: The synod of bishops taking place this month (and in October of 2024) is unique in its broad membership. About 464 people are expected to be involved in the synod, including 54 women participating as full voting members and 27 women joining as experts, facilitators or special guests.

Process: Large gatherings will introduce major themes, but participants will spend most of their time in 35 small working groups in order to participate in the dialogue that Pope Francis has defined as the defining feature synod. Small group reports and open discussion will also be regular features.

The synod opens on Oct. 4. On Oct. 9, Oct. 13, Oct. 18, and Oct. 23 new topics will be introduced for the listening and dialogue process.

Your participation: Anyone—believer or not—has a stake in the synod because the attitudes and skills of dialogue are already necessary for all of us to preserve, protect, and grow our interdependent global community. We all know people skilled at this who inspire us. We know people we can hope to inspire. Anytime we practice loving listening, generous and peaceable dialogue, honest self-giving, grappling with hard questions, or repentance after failure, we are participants in the world synod necessary for our survival. In addition, a more faithful Catholic Church will, it is hoped, contribute to a more generous and peaceable world.

If you are inclined to pray, please pray for the synod participants in Rome as they grapple with the strengths and failures of the Church.

Prayer for the Synod

We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.

With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;

Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.

Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.

Let us find in You our uity so that we may journey together to eternal life

and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.

All this we ask of You, who are at work in every placeand time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.