Pope Francis has presented us with an extraordinary opportunity to speak out about the kind of Church we’d like to see today and how she can better meet the needs of the people. It is our belief that his invitation to us to gather in small groups and share our stories offers far more hope for Church reform than even Vatican II back in the 60s. He wants to hear not only from those who are regular Mass attendees but even those who’ve walked away from the institutional Church valuing their personal faith over so many Church laws and prescripts. He has called on every diocese throughout the world urging the bishops to engage in dialogue with the people.
Francis has begun a two-year process for the purpose of creating a radical structural change to the Church that will shift decision making to the people with the bishops carrying out their duties as servant leaders. “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” is the title of this journey. The Assembly has been conceived in three phases, taking place between October 2021 and October 2023: the first will be diocesan, the second continental and the third universal. The “synodal way” is not itself a new model but a method reflective of the days of the early Christians where they gathered to support one another and break bread together in remembrance of what Jesus Christ did for his followers. Francis is inviting us to share our dreams for the Christian community in today’s world.
Countless people have been hurt by the impact of Church laws. Francis is calling these synodal gatherings inviting us to “walk together” to share our lived experiences of what has held deep meaning for us as well as what has brought about disappointments and frustrations. These gatherings are not meant to be debates but prayerful Spirit-guided sharing of our lived experiences that will lead to our offering solutions to the many issues facing the Church today. These are not typical meetings like we’re accustomed. They are meant to be deep listening sessions incorporating moments of prayerful silence where we are journeying together, respectfully responding to one another, and discerning together the best way forward as we walk the path that God is calling the Church to undertake for the third millennium.
Francis has a dream of creating a community that resembles a field hospital moving away from the “Thou shalt not” prescriptions to being there to serve the wounded, to help heal those who are hurting. He envisions an upside-down pyramid thereby changing the way the Church is structured and governed. But many bishops, fearful of losing their power, are resisting this effort. The change we are seeking is not to change them; the change we are seeking is within us. But if our walking together does, indeed, have the Spirit at its center, then it is possible that the process of changing ourselves will drag the existing institution and its hierarchy along with it in a transformation that fulfills the dreams of Vatican II. If Church reform is to come, it is not likely to be through the leadership of the bishops but through us, the people transforming ourselves from “pray, pay, and obey” Catholics to behaving as mature adults assuming responsibility for our Church – recognizing that the Church is us. I invite you to share your insights now into the kind of Church you’d like to see in our world today and share your reasons for wanting this.