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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

1129: All the baptized have a right to be there

Day 1129: Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Every human person possesses the dignity that comes from being created in the image of God

The U.S. and Canadian bishops' conferences released the "North American Final Document for the Continental Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod" last week. It is remarkable both for what it says and for what it does not say, especially the absence of any conclusions or statements of finality.

The awareness that synodality is a change in the way we function as a church, not a process with a particular end point, runs through the text, and that is its single most important contribution.

The text opens by noting the "profound joy and enthusiasm” among those who participated in the synodal process. This has been a constant theme heard from every part of the globe and was a dominant theme in the national synthesis report issued last year:

People really liked being asked about their faith lives, about the difference their faith makes in their lives and, perhaps most of all, what they like and don't like about the church.

As in that earlier synthesis, the theme of co-responsibility for the life of the church echoes through the report. Indeed, early in the text, the authors note that co-responsibility is a work in process when they observe:

That candor is linked to the recognition that participants not only felt listened to, but that the process of mutual listening had transformed them. The report quotes a comment from one of the preparatory groups:

The methodology that has emerged from the synodal process – particularly the spiritual conversations – is so important. We have learned that we can learn from listening. We hope this will continue! This is an empowering way to reach out and to attend to places of hurt.

The document is happily rooted in the theology of the Second Vatican Council:

Expressed over and over in the Continental Assembly of North America was the need to grow into a more synodal Church, starting with the recognition of the dignity of all the baptized. "Walking together and expanding the tent envelops everyone.

All the baptized have a right to be there

Every human person possesses the dignity that comes from being created in the image of God. Through baptism, Christians share in an exalted dignity and vocation to holiness, with no inequality based on race, nationality, social condition, or sex, because we are one in Christ Jesus (Lumen Gentium 32; cf. Gal 3:28, Col 3:11).

"Synod was a good way for laity and clergy to realize that we are all the Church and that we have a co-responsibility for expanding the tent. If we aim to do that it will take all of us!" (Session VIII Group 3).

The sentence "All the baptized have a right to be there," the vocation to holiness, the radical equality brought by baptism — none of this would have been found in a pre-Vatican II document of this sort.

The section on greater inclusivity contains a remarkable conjunction. The document addresses the "profound sense of suffering of those prevented from receiving the Eucharist." It mentions the divorced and remarried and "those whose objective situation in life contradicts the beliefs and teachings of the Church." The document then adds: "Additionally, some delegates spoke of those wounded by the limitations placed on the pre-conciliar Latin rite."

The text quotes one of the listening sessions: "The most beautiful thing about this was that from every stage of listening, people responded in an extraordinary way." That conforms with my anecdotal impressions of the synodal process: When you get people together, introduce shared prayer and some hospitality, they respond in an extraordinary way, literally, not in the ordinary, bifurcated, divisive, polarized way we have all come to expect.

The answer to the question "What is next?" is to keep building and strengthening our communion in Christ and with one another by listening patiently, by going to the margins to let the poor teach us, creating ongoing formation in both synodality and discernment, and engaging charitably the tensions that exist within the church.

Synodality is an open-ended process. The Risen Lord told the apostles: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised to be with them, and with us, until the end of the age.

He did not disclose when or how that evangelizing call would be completed. He just told us to get into the fields. Now, in our time, synodality is the means by which we can all get back to work.

Reflection by Michael Sean Winters (excerpted)

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