“That expression – ‘We have always done it that way’ – is poison for the life of the Church. Those who think this way, perhaps without even realizing it, make the mistake of not taking seriously the times in which we are living.”
While a Synod of Bishops is not a parliament and its preparatory process is not “an opinion poll,” Pope Francis insisted that involving as many people as possible in the process and prayerfully listening to all of them is the only way to recognize the call of the Holy Spirit.
“I underline this because sometimes there is an elitism” among priests and bishops “that causes them to separate themselves from the laity,” the pope said Oct. 9 as he opened a day of reflection at the Vatican as part of the official launch of the process that will lead up to the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2023.
Widespread involvement “is not a matter of form, but of faith. Participation is a requirement of the faith received in baptism,” Pope Francis insisted during his talk to cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laypeople meeting in the Vatican Synod Hall.
“Without real participation by the people of God, talk about communion risks remaining a devout wish,” he said. “In this regard, we have taken some steps forward, but a certain difficulty remains, and we must acknowledge the frustration and impatience felt by many pastoral workers, members of diocesan and parish consultative bodies and women, who frequently remain on the fringes.”
The attempt to create a new synod process, one that involves everyone and attempts to give the entire church a “synodal” character of widespread consultation and group discernment, he said, carries “certain risks.”
The first, the pope said, is that of making the whole process a show that is only apparently one of all participants praying and listening for the Holy Spirit’s message by listening to each other.
Without attention to the Holy Spirit, he said, the process is simply a formality, it “would be like admiring the magnificent facade of a church without ever actually stepping inside.”
Other risks, he said, include turning the synod into an intellectual exercise where no one listens and everyone sticks to their opinions, “ending up along familiar and unfruitful ideological and partisan divides” that do not respond to the Holy Spirit and people’s needs and concerns and “paralysis, the attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’ — this is poison in the life of the church.”
You can read the full text of the pope’s remarks here.
Dear brothers and sisters, may this Synod be a true season of the Spirit! For we need the Spirit, the ever new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy. The Holy Spirit guides us where God wants us to be, not to where our own ideas and personal tastes would lead us. Father [Yves] Congar, of blessed memory, once said: “There is no need to create another Church, but to create a different Church” (True and False Reform in the Church). That is the challenge. For a “different Church”, a Church open to the newness that God wants to suggest, let us with greater fervour and frequency invoke the Holy Spirit and humbly listen to him, journeying together as he, the source of communion and mission, desires: with docility and courage.