WelCom June/July 2022
+ John A Cardinal Dew, Archbishop of Wellington Archdiocese, Apostolic Administrator of Palmerston North Diocese
The Acts of the Apostles recounts, among other things, the story of the early church as it learns to become a community guided by the Holy Spirit. It is the same for us today. Learning to listen to the Spirit of God and Synodality in 2022 is about doing the same thing as the first disciples did – prayerfully listening and discerning together. Through active listening, those in the early church recognised that Christ’s Spirit was already active among them. They became a discerning church as they listened prayerfully to the Spirit and to one another. In the third decade of the third millennium, it is no different for us!
Becoming a Synodal Church is anything that deepens mutual areas of responsibility. Synodality is a compliment Christians pay to one another as we help one another to live as Christians.
Synodality is about building one another up in the love of Christ. To do that requires deep and respectful listening – it is not just about my idea and what I think should happen in the life of the Church. It is always about finding a way to live as disciples and helping one another to do that.
Some people have been confused by this Synod process and have thought that Synodality is ecclesial democracy or a kind of parliamentary process by which we decide how the Church should be organised and run. They have thought it is about deciding what we will believe, or how we might be able to change Church teaching to suit us today. After all, the Pope has invited us to have a say.
But Francis has changed no Church doctrine. He has asked us to embrace Synodality and to know that it is always about the presence of the Holy Spirit, otherwise it is not Synodality! If the Holy Spirit is not present it just becomes our ideas,
maybe even our own pet projects or our favourite themes, or hobby horses!
What we are engaging in is about growing closer to one another as disciples – and being supportive as we try every day to make a Gospel response to the situations that life puts before us. I love the idea that this is about paying one another a compliment by deeply listening to each other and being prepared to learn from that listening; and if necessary to change our in-built ideas. Are we prepared to pay each other a compliment today as we listen intently to one another and share what the Holy Spirit has said to us? Are we prepared to put our fixed ideas aside to assist someone else on the way to knowing the presence of God, or will we get in the way by insisting that we know what is right for the Church?
It has been said that Synodality is a process, and that is true. It is the process of walking together, journeying with fellow disciples, listening to them, learning from them as we travel though life together. Our Baptism calls us to this way of life. Synodality asks us to reflect together on how we do everything: ‘Through him, with him and in him’. If it is a process, it is a process that demands we ask how we support one another, encourage one another and how we give a reason for the Hope that we have (C/- 1 Peter 3: 15)
“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”1 Peter 3:15
What we are engaging in, not just today, but over the last few months and into the future, is acknowledging it is time for us to implement decisively a participatory, inclusive, and collaborative model in our diocese and parish structures. We are about a culture of humility and accountability in service. It is not about a top-down approach, a centralised approach. We are talking about a synodal Church at every level, with everyone listening to one another and learning from one another. It is about all taking responsibility for proclaiming and living the Gospel.
This is an edited version of Cardinal John’s address at the synodality days held recently in Palmerston North and Wellington.