On June 20, 2023, the Holy See’s General Secretariat of the Synod issued the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) for the First Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held this October. It’s titled, “2021-2024 Synod: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” and consists of two main sections: (1) a reflection on the experience of a synodal Church thus far and (2) the articulation of the three main priorities for a synodal Church — Communion, Participation, and Mission.
The question that is at the heart of the journey we, as Church, are on is this: “How does ‘journeying together,’ which takes place today on different levels (from the local level to the universal one), allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to Her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal Church?” (IL, Foreword). To assist in this continued reflection, worksheets have been provided in the IL focusing on the following themes: “A Communion that radiates” — “Co-responsibility in Mission” — “Participation, governance, and authority.”
A sampling of questions provides you and me with further illustration of how the synodal process is meant to foster the Church’s mission in a particular church:
How does the service of charity and commitment to justice and care for our common home nourish communion in a synodal Church?
How can the Church of our time better fulfill its mission through greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women?
How can we renew the service of authority and the exercise of responsibility in a missionary synodal Church?
These are three of fifteen total questions that Synod participants will use as a working tool to further address the priorities of participation, governance and authority. It is my hope that as preparatory action for our own Diocesan Synod, as a local Church, we will spend some time with the questions the IL offers in various diocesan meetings and settings during Program Year 2023-24.
A key principle in these discussions is to be found in paragraph 16 of the IL:
“The commitment asked of the Assembly and its Members will be to sustain a dynamic equilibrium between maintaining an overview, which characterizes the work outlined in section A, and the identification of practical steps to be taken in a concrete and timely fashion, work which is the focus of section B. On this will depend the fruitfulness of the discernment of the Synodal Assembly whose task will be to open the whole Church to welcome the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
There are some who fear that this synodal walk is the downfall of the Church. Again, I wish to emphasize that the role of the synod in the life of the Church is for the good of the Church and Her mission. Councils and synods have been part of the Church’s history since its earliest days as seen in the Acts of the Apostles. As back then, the whole purpose of the current synodal process is to reinvigorate the Church’s mission in our world today furthering communion and participation in the Kingdom of God which is at hand.
On page 16 of the IL is an illustration of this process of “The Conversation in the Spirit.” It begins with “Personal Preparation” — that is, “entrusting oneself to the Father, conversing in prayer with the Lord Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, each one prepares his or her own contribution to the question about which he or she is called to discern.” Second, each person takes a turn sharing the Word from personal experience and prayer, “and listens carefully to the contribution of others.” Third, there is the need for “making space for others and the Other.” Fourth, dialogue and asking the question, “To what steps is the Holy Spirit calling us together?” Fifth, the offering of a final prayer of thanksgiving. Throughout, this conversation is punctuated by silence and prayer.
Again, the IL excites me as a means of how we can get away from the mantra of “We have always done it this way” to Jesus’ mantra in the Book of Revelation: “See, I make all things new” (see Rv 21:5). I would like to invite the faithful of the Diocese of Syracuse to take some time this summer and read the IL for the Synod, but even more to spend some time praying over the questions it invites us to reflect upon.
So we pray:
Lord, who grants us the gift of the Synodal path, to live a Church being God’s Family that is inclusive, open and welcoming. Send us your Holy Spirit to breathe on us the desire to keep on in this synodal spirit, where all the members of the community can express honestly. Give us the grace of a sincere disposition to a deep and fraternal dialogue, as characteristic of the culture of Your Church. Help us to overcome the lack of participation and the resistance to the novelty of being and living the Church. Come, Holy Spirit! Take us closer to the Heart of Jesus and be our guide as we walk together! Amen.
Editor’s note: the IL document can be found on The Catholic Sun website here: