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DIVERSITY AND SYNODALITY

Sean O'Leary



Our experiences of synodality affirms that it is deeply challenging to navigate together the space between our intentions as a community of faith and our lived experiences. Yet, God’s life as Trinity and relationship to the whole of Creation and humankind gives us an insight into the Catholic life. There is divergence and convergence. There is a fullness amidst community and a wholeness amidst diversity made possible by God’s abundant love. The Church that we belong to is not set in stone but journeys into being as the visible sign of the reconciliation that God has achieved in Christ through the Spirit. It is this faithfulness to the Holy Spirit and the living Word of God that inspires the authentic nature of the Church as a secure place of redemption. Synodality includes processes that enable the universal to speak with the local and the local to speak with the universal. Unlike the worst excesses of globalisation, synodality does not accept that the universal can only be realised at the expense of the local or that that local can only be protected at the expense of the universal. The Catholic life is not about embracing the one or the other, it is about embracing the one and the other as representing differences generated by God’s creative presence. We experience these differences through an impetus towards solidarity and unity rather than giving in to the political temptation towards forming alliances with compatible people. Accusations of fundamentalism, relativism and progressiveness abound on social media. Such behaviour lacks a simple test of ecclesiology, that we are in the boat together, that we journey together and that we seek God in humility both individually and together. Within a diverse Creation, we come to know the creative love of God more fully. It is our own specific gifts set within all the gifts of the universal Church that opens our hearts to the manifest activities of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth who binds us together as the body of Christ. Synodality encourages us to witness to the freedom inherent in human nature as the fruit of God’s vision for Creation, which cannot be reduced to a uniform idea of the perfect life; nor can it be realised by strict demarcations between the Church and the world. Such a hard-line approach only cuts us off from God’s good Creation and potentially stunts our ability to appreciate the gift and mystery of God’s love more deeply, a boundless love that unifies difference into a gracious whole. Thankfully, there is also the much quieter hope that synodality provides in the rich experiences of ordinary Catholics, be they clergy, religious or laity. This is where the ability of the Holy Spirit to affect a receptiveness to the Word of God takes root. This is where we realise that the Good News cannot be defined by any one place or time or culture. This is where we realise that the Gospels are not about a prescribed set of beliefs to be argued over but a living faith tradition that is handed from one person to another primarily through dialogue and relationships of trust, through the gift of the Sacraments and diverse cultural traditions, through seeking shared meaning, through self-understanding and through our hopes for the future. What then is synodality revealing about what the Holy Spirit is telling the world? From reading the various documents at the local, national and continental levels, I believe that the Spirit is already telling us: 1. We are not alone in our struggles and suffering no matter who we are. 2. The decline in vocations prompts the Church to better utilise the individual charisms found within the People of God. 3. Our creeds, doctrines and practices illuminate our path towards God and only become a problem for us when we cannot see their hope-filled possibilities. 4. It is short-sighted to view personal preferences as unchangeable absolutes. 5. The universal and the local benefit each other by opening horizons of hope for the entire world through the Spirit. 6. Tensions are not to be feared or avoided but approached with faith, hope and love. 7. Journeying together is deeply challenging and requires humility, prayer and meditation upon the Word of God. 8. Faith is not about ridding the world of uncertainty in all things but about trusting in God to lead us through uncertainty. Perhaps the deepest message to emerge from our synodal journeying is even simpler. It is often in the messiness of life that we can come to experience God’s love more fully active in the world and come to know God’s love more deeply as the absolute truth of life. And I pray that we all thank God for this.


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