On the Synod: Caution, Change, Surprise

There's a fair amount of excitement today in the Catholic blogosphere and social media regards the report released this morning from the Synod of Bishops taking place in Rome.  

While the report includes some great and surprising material, it's important to note that what we have now is the English translation from the Vatican Press Office and that an official translation will follow.  

It's also important to note that this report comes mid-way in this Extraordinary Synod which, itself, is preparatory to a General Synod of Bishops to be held a year from now and from which more conclusive resolutions will emanate.   Today's report is not legislative in any way and it's certainly not the last word we're going to hear on these issues.  

I don't want to mute any joy taken in the document released today, I only want to keep the matter in perspective.

Personally, I did not dream that in my lifetime I'd see a pope like Francis or be reading what I read online this morning.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

So IS there any really big change here? Yes, there is - it's a change in methodology. Read on - this is not as dry as it sounds!   

What Francis and his Synod have undertaken here is the work of doing theology from a new beginning point.  Consider these comments from Canadian Archbishop Paul-AndrĂ© Durocher, participating in the Synod (reported by NCR, emphasis added):
Unlike in the past, when bishops or theologians would deduce theology from general, sometimes idealized notions of God or humanity, the prelates at the Synod of Bishops on the family are using inductive reasoning to instead examine theology in the reality of families today, Archbishop Durocher said.

"What's happening within the synod is we're seeing a more inductive way of reflecting, starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out what's going on here," said Durocher, who leads the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The prelates, the archbishop said, are "finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source -- what we call a theological source, a place of theological reflection..."

"And we're only, in a sense, starting to learn how to do this as church leaders," he said. "And this is going to take time for us, to learn to do this and together to come -- as we reflect on this -- to find what is the way that God is showing."
It strikes me that in some ways, this is how parish ministers "do theology" in their pastoral work all the time. Fully cognizant of what the Church teaches, they begin with the lived experience of their people as the starting point of their ministry. This starting point and an appreciation of the gradualism the Synod has also embraced, are hallmarks of parish ministry.

Pope Francis echoed this same theme in his homily this morning (reported by CNS on 10/13, emphasis added) when he was speaking of the religious leaders of Jesus' day:

The scholars were safeguarding the law "out of love, to be faithful to God," the pope said, but "they were closed up right there," and forgot all the ways God has acted in history.

"They forgot that God is the God of the law, but is also the God of surprises," he said.

"God is always new; he never denies himself, he never says that what he had said is wrong, but he always surprises us," the pope said.

The scholars of the law had forgotten how many times God surprised his people, like when he freed them from slavery in Egypt, he said. They were too wrapped up in their perfect system of laws -- "a masterpiece" where everyone knew exactly what he or she was supposed to do; "it was all settled. And they felt very secure there," he said.

They couldn't see beyond "this system made with lots of good will," and they could not read the "signs of the times," the pope said…

The scholars of the law also forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, "and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before," he said. But the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; they are a path, "a pedagogy," toward "the ultimate manifestation of the Lord. Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when he will come again."
Please pray for the pope and bishops whose work at the Synod continues this week and pray for the work of the General Synod to be held in October 2015.


Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments 


  1. Thanks for your comments, Austin! Much appreciated!

  2. Prayers between now and the October 2015 General Synod. Lots of prayers.



Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!