In Rome on the morning of the 11th. October 1962 Pope John XXIII inaugurated the II Vatican Council which he had called to ‘update’ the Church. The word he used was ‘aggiornamento’, a word he used to camouflage the fact that he was calling for a revolution. In his great opening discourse, he set out a vast vision of ecclesial renewal that was meant not merely to restore the church to a form more consistent with the spirit of Christ, its founder, but was intended to be a challenge to the world that would invade the consciousness, and subsequently the consciences, of all mankind.
During his opening address he referred to the cardinals and other counsellors who besieged him with dire warnings [in their opinion to the disasters that the Council would heap upon the Church] as “prophets of doom.” ….. “They pay no attention to history, the great teacher of mankind,” was the way he finally dismissed them. But he also laid down a crucial principle that in the Council the debate would be totally open and free. “There will be no condemnations,” was his order. And despite the fact that many of the men serving him in the administrative offices of the Vatican openly opposed his policies and teamed up against him with conservative cardinals and bishops from outside, he pushed on with his plans for a thorough reformation of the Church “in head and members”. This attitude of honest discussion and analysis prevailed during the subsequent four years of the conciliar discussions, despite the opposition of most of the Vatican officials attempting to curb the debates and dilute the Council’s achievements. – That analysis of the background and underlying antagonism Pope John XXIII had to contend with is taken, and is a precis of a small section of the ‘Introduction to the 1999 Edition’ of Vatican Council II, (ISBN 1-57075-293-1) as recorded and compiled by Xavier Rynne, a pseudonym for the Redemptorist priest Francis Murphy. The book is a ‘must read’ for those who want to know more about the council, what went on, and the wonderful documents which were the result of this Spirit filled Council.
Why should I mention Vatican II when I intended to give a brief outline on Synods? Well there are two reasons: first, without Vatican II the church synods which have taken place so far during in this papacy may never have happened, and secondly, Pope Francis has received as vehement an opposition to his leadership of the Church as Pope St John XXIII received to his leadership of the barque of Peter.
Despite Pope John XXIII having to deal with the antagonism from Cardinals and Bishops, his vision for the leadership of the Church was centred on a shared leadership, where the College of Cardinals would become unified in purpose and action, not divided and negative, but would speak with one voice as St Peter and his fellow apostles managed to achieve after Pentecost. Collegiality was the key word, with the Pope as head of the episcopal college, where the bishops constituted a corporate body. Pope John didn’t live to see his idea of a unified college of Cardinals bringing unity to the Church, but John XXIII’s desire for sharing the weight of responsibility for guiding the Church came up in the second session of the Council where Pope Paul VI said that Collegiality was at the core of the new vision of the church which the church must acquire. And so the concept of collegiality among bishops was accepted.
After the Council, a decentralised Synod of Bishops was conceived by Pope Paul VI as a way to continue the collegial experiences of the Second Vatican Council and was established by Paul VI on September 15th. 1965 where Bishops could discuss aspects of doctrine, administration and other matters pertinent to their part of the world. During the papacy of Pope Francis there have been four of these modern synods: 2014 and 2015 on the family; 2018 on young people and 2019 on the Amazon, a synod which has received tremendous press coverage. However, the next synod of Bishops is scheduled for October 2023. But this synod will be the most encompassing ever. It will not only be celebrated in the Vatican but in each particular Church, each diocese within the five continents. This synod will start with a consultation and participation of the People of God. The fishing net of this synod will envelop the world.
The synodal Path will begin at the Vatican in the presence of the Pope on 9th. and 10th. of October this year, and the diocesan churches will begin their journey, their active participation on Sunday 17th. October under the presidency of the Diocesan Bishop. Each Bishop will appoint a diocesan representative as a point of reference and liaison with the Bishops’ Conference. A continental phase of dialogue and discernment will mark the beginning of the Second phase scheduled to take place from September 2022 to March 2023, and a universal phase will culminate in Rome during October 2023.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis wants the People of God to express their thoughts, desires, hopes and fears without hindrance and interference from anyone. He knows from personal and sometimes very bitter experience what goes on in the world, but different cultures mean different concerns and worries, and the world, let alone the Church should listen and respond with open charity. This will be a universal synod where the People of God express their faith and trust with the knowledge that Pope Francis with the College of Bishops will provide answers. Leaders of nations, both in the so-called free world and well as the world-in-chains should pay particular attention to the millions of people who will pool their wisdom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the results, once published, should give heart and hope to all our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have been enslaved by cruelty and depravation of the basics of life, and worst of all by the loss of their freedom of speech in defence of their human rights. The Church is the beacon of charity in the world, expressing the love God has for all his creation.
The Church speaks, …. the world listens, ….. the Church is the People of God, the Body of Christ. Pope Francis has given the People of God a platform to speak the truth, which should be expressed without ‘condemnations’ as Pope St John XXIII promised the 2,500 Bishops in St Peters in 1962 at the beginning of Vatican II.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As Saint Paul says ‘his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant’, not only that but his death took place to cancel the sins of the world. His death took place to cancel the sins that today are offending the sacredness and dignity of humanity on a greater scale than at any time in the history of humanity. Poverty and oppression are not solely the preserve of dictatorships. In our nation, as in every nation, poverty and oppression occurs in the home, in marriages, in families, in the workplace! …. Poverty in all its forms …. Oppression in all its forms.
All this pain is not caused by God, it’s the result of man’s inhumanity to man. Perhaps this wonderful feast is as good a starting point as any to pray that those with hearts of stone will be given hearts of flesh, and we will come to realise the dignity with which God has given to man. To illustrate that divine dignity, here is a quote on the subject from St Thomas Aquinas:
The only-begotten Son of God, wishing to enable us to share in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that by becoming man he might make men gods. ….. Now in order that we might always keep the memory of this great act of love, he left his body as food and his blood as drink, to be received by the faithful under the appearance of bread and wine.
May this Synod called by Pope Francis, bring unity to the Church, bring Jesus to the world, and peace between nations.
There is an article photocopied from last weeks Tablet 29.05.21 which features the synod that Pope Francis announced before Pentecost. Please take a copy.