The ‘unpredictability of grace’

Published on 13th Aug, 2022

Published in WelCom August 2022

Cardinal John gave the opening address at the National Synod Day, held at St Catherine’s College in Wellington on July 2, 2022. Here are excerpts from that address.

St Catherine’s College students were among hundreds of participants who represented parishes, schools and communities from across New Zealand at the National Synod hui – listening, praying, discerning. Photo: Annette Scullion

+ John A Cardinal Dew, Archbishop of Wellington Archdiocese, Apostolic Administrator of Palmerston North Diocese

Synodality builds on the conviction that all the baptised, having received ‘an anointing which comes from the holy one cannot be mistaken in belief’ (Lumen Gentium, 12). Through the grace of baptism, responsibility for the church’s faith, communion, and mission is the patrimony of all the baptised. The emphasis acknowledges that each baptised member of the Church shares in ‘the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ’ (LG, 31). Bishops and priests have specific duties for the Church (LG, 20-7), but the mission of the entire ecclesial community benefits when all the baptised discern and respond together to the movement of God’s Spirit.

For Pope Francis, Synodality is a recovery of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council – the Church is ‘The people of God.’ When Francis was elected in 2013, he knew radical change was necessary, but he did not have a blueprint or a checklist. What he wanted, was ‘a Church sensitive to the least breath of the Holy Spirit, a Church that was open to being led by the unpredictability of grace.’ If we are to be sensitive ‘to the least breath of the Holy Spirit’ – listening is essential.

Pope Francis has emphasised that our faith journey is a journey of ‘personal conversion’. He knew that the Roman Curia needed to change, he also knew that it would not just happen by changing rules and processes about the way the Curia operated. The call of Jesus needed to be heard repeatedly: ‘Repent and believe the Good News.’ We know it’s a personal journey, we face the call to conversion every day. That’s why we have the seasons of Lent and Advent, why we have a Penitential Rite at every Mass, why hopefully we all engage in some kind Examen every day.

In participating in the Synod process over the last few months many people have voiced their hopes for change, some radical, some unrealistic, maybe some heretical, some projected out there to the Church but not to themselves. The call to conversion is personal. Do we see that? Or do we think change is for the Church and others? Are we willing to listen and change?

In 1968 Cardinal Suenens of Belgium said ‘History will render glory to the Second Vatican Council for having beautifully defined the nature of the Church, the People of God, and for having boldly sketched the place and role of the laity in the Church. History will no doubt also accuse us of not having sufficiently put into practice that which is so well defined, the co-responsibility of the laity.’

The early Christians gathered under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and discerned their way forward, how they were to live faithful to the experience of Jesus. So too Synodality for us is discerning the way forward through the Holy Spirit.

Today is not just an event. A Synod, in Rome or New Zealand, is not just an event. Synodality is a process, a process we are encouraged to live. In a truly synodal experience the process is more important than the programme, the lead-in more critical than the event.

For Francis the Synod process is a concrete form of a decentralised ecclesiology of communion met by a style where all participate and dialogue. Synods are not about finding ‘exhaustive exclusive solutions for all difficulties,’ nor do they demonise those with whom we disagree. We listen to them too. In Evangelium Gaudium Francis wrote ‘Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked.’ (EG 2236).

Synodality calls us to listen to all the People of God, even if we think the ideas are whacky, or heretical or far-fetched. It is only in prayerful listening that we hear others and begin a dialogue…. with the Spirit leading us.

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