Card. Grech to US bishops: “Let the pastors not be afraid to listen to the flock"
By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Secretary-General for the Synod of Bishops, has sent a message to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as it holds its fall General Assembly from 15 – 18 November in Baltimore, Maryland.
In a video message, Cardinal Mario Grech reminded the US bishops that the Synod is “a spiritual journey, an event inspired and guided by the Spirit” and thus, the various testimonies received, as well as the creativity with which the episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes or associations are organizing the consultation of the People of God, are “signs confirming that the Spirit is at work.”
A Gift of common commitment to the Church
Cardinal Grech considers the opportunity of addressing the bishops to be a “gift” because he shares with them, “a common commitment to and concern for the Church.”
He reminds them that the Pope is calling us to rediscover that walking together is “the most effective way of manifesting and putting into practice the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary people of God.”
In this light, synodality is a way of being Church, “a culture, or forma mentis, proper to life in the Church, making visible the core values of communion, participation and mission,” he said.
Aspects of synodality
The Cardinal then underscores seven aspects of synodality:
- He notes that synodality “brings to light the palpable sense that all of us are on a common journey towards our God, in which our common humanity and the shared dignity of Baptism form the central foundation of this journeying together.” At the basis of this truth, we are invited to evaluate the way of this “being together”, to reflect on the nature our relations as baptized, as well as the relationships between the laity, consecrated persons and ordained ministers.
- Synodality, he continues, “helps us acquire a profound recognition that in all moments of dialogue, decision making and discernment, it is God’s will that we are seeking to discern and discover, not our own nor our group’s.” We are therefore encouraged to listen to each other to better hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in our world today.
- Synodality also “pushes us to make a continuous and vigorous effort to invite everyone into deeper relationship with the Church, in all dimensions of its life.” In this, interlocutors are invited to discover their worth and value, and everyone, including the marginalized and the poor, is valuable.
- He added that “Synodality brings about an authentic ethic of listening which seeks to learn from and engage all of the members of the community in honesty and charity.”
- Moreso, it “demands a willingness on the part of all to give up strongly held positions and goals, and to adopt a culture of dialogue and collective decision making, conscious of the fact that we can be genuinely gifted and enriched when doing so.”
- Likewise, synodality “demands the assumption of responsibility and the readiness to recognize in all humility the ways in which the Church wounds men and women and children and families.”
- Lastly, synodality is “an invitation for a missionary outreach of engagement with the world in which we live;” and a “great path of evangelization.” We should be led to ask what kind of Church we want to present to the world today? What contribution do we have to offer to our societies? How can we do this?
An opportunity for reciprocity of relationships
Cardinal Grech goes on to highlight that the US bishops’ meeting is a particular moment of grace and an opportunity for “another small step in the direction of the reciprocity of relationships that the Secretariat for the Synod intends to foster.”
In this regard, the synodal process that began on 10 October and continues in local Churches is built on the “mutual interiority” of particular Churches and the universal Church, as it is from the consultation of the People of God and the discernment of the pastors in the Churches that the instrumentum laboris will be written and delivered to the Synod Assembly in 2023.
He explains that the decisive nature of this reciprocity of relationships can be understood if one considers the theological importance of the people of God. He added that different from “a mass of people that finds the possibility to express itself within the dynamics of representation typical of democratic systems,” the People of God is “the totality of the baptized, articulated and manifest in portiones Populi Dei, each entrusted to the bishop assisted by his presbyterate.” Thus, the Church which is "constitutively synodal" is also and always "constitutively hierarchical" and the synodal process depends on the bishop who initiates it, accompanies it and collects the final contributions on the theme of the synod.
The contribution of each Church is important
The Cardinal said that contributions of the Churches and the work of synthesis of the Bishops’ Conferences are “gifts that each Church offers to the other Churches and to the universal Church, in the logic of the principle of catholicity formulated by Vatican Council II” which holds that “all the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit” regardless of their geographical location.
The Church is, therefore, mindful that she must bring together all nations “for that king to whom they were given as an inheritance, and to whose city they bring gifts and offerings.” In this logic of exchange of gifts, “every contribution to the understanding of the Synodal Church is important”, because there are “no written conclusions” and “no desire to impose a line of thinking.” Rather, “there is a willingness to listen to the Spirit in listening to one another” as there are no positions that are worth more than others.
Cardinal Grech stresses that it is the will of the Secretariat to “encourage listening at all levels of the life of the Church and to itself engage in this process of listening in order to discover the voice of the Living God.”
Do not be afraid to listen to the flock
“Let the pastors not be afraid to listen to the flock entrusted to them,” Cardinal Grech urged the US Bishops, reiterating the invitation of the Preparatory Document.
“Do not be afraid to tell us frankly what you have gathered from listening to your people about what the Spirit is saying to the Church: to your Church and to the whole Church,” he said.
Regarding the consultation process among the American faithful, the Cardinal pointed out the already incorporated synodal structures in the Church in the US, in line with the principles of Vatican II, and the willingness of the faithful to participate in the synodal process. He also noted how much the Church in the US has benefitted from the five nationwide experiences of the Encuentro which has helped to discern pastoral practices and priorities in order to improve the quality of ministry among Hispanic/Latino Catholics and provided many dioceses with synodal structures that can contribute to the synodal process.
Cardinal Grech concluded his message by reassuring the US bishops of the support of the Secretariat of the Synod in the different phases of the synodal process.