It is hard to believe that over one month has passed since our first Synod here in the Diocese of Parramatta. In recent weeks, I have found myself often meeting people who participated with me in the historic event, and when asked what their thoughts were, there’s a unanimous sentiment: the Synod was a valuable opportunity for us, the People of God, to come together and listen.
Much is being said and written about synods at the moment. This is due in no small part to the Synod on Synodality which has recently come to an end in Rome. The Synod has sparked a spectrum of opinions. Some view the synodal process as a threat to Catholic tradition and teaching, worried that liberal agendas will hold sway and the doctrinal authority of the Church will be compromised. Others see synodality as the final play of a Church struggling for relevance in the modern world, arguing that the Church must modernise quickly, and anything short of full adoption of secular values and positions would represent cataclysmic failure. Synodality, therefore, often finds itself positioned within the powerful and familiar push and pull of right versus left.
I must confess that I attended our first synod with my own agenda. As a practising Catholic living and working in the Diocese, I am passionate about the Church as the People of God called to “decipher authentic signs for God’s presence and purpose” (Gaudium et Spes, 1965, 11). As I entered our Synod, it was my strong belief that we needed to renew the life of the Church here in Parramatta and courageously challenge paradigms which were preventing the fuller realisation of the Second Vatican Council.
It was (and is) also my position that the Church of Western Sydney needs to do more to respond to ‘the cry of the earth’ and ‘the cry of the poor’. However, notions of working to advance a vision of the Church according to myself were quickly dispelled when delegates were informed that a Synod is not a parliament. While resolutions would be discussed and delegates would vote, our Synod was first and foremost about listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit. At this instruction, I was forced to take on the difficult task of setting aside my own agenda and instead opening myself to hearing the voice of the Spirit.
In the Dogmatic Constitution document Dei Verbum, the Council Fathers speak of divine revelation as an invitation into the fellowship of God. The document states that “By this revelation, then, the invisible God, out of the abundance of His love speaks to men [and women] as his friends, and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum, 1965, 2).
Over the course of our Synod, I experienced this first-hand, listening to the voices of those at my table. I heard their names, their stories, their hopes, their fears, their reflections, and they heard mine. I heard countless voices from the floor each speaking with passion on topics they felt called to address. I heard people laugh and cry when sharing their experiences and dreams for the future. In short, I heard the Spirit of God speaking through many voices. Some speaking with ideas different to my own, but always with the same Spirit.
As our Synod concluded, I found myself reflecting upon the cross of Our Lord Jesus and what it truly means to “die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31) as St Paul tells us. I wondered how to better understand the role of faith, hope, and love, not only in the world but also within my own heart.
Within the walls of the synod hall, I realised that synodality is more than a process; it’s first and foremost a way of being. It demands selflessness, to truly ‘die to self’, so that the Church can “live in Him.” (Romans 6:7). It requires all to develop a disposition of deep listening, because it’s listening that is the most transformational dimension of all. Perhaps this is why in the month following our Synod, none of the delegates that I have spoken with have sought to debate resolutions or discuss the outcomes of voting. Instead, they have all said with a smile how much they enjoyed listening.
In reading over this reflection, I have intentionally made one small edit. At those times when I referred to ‘the Synod’, I have now changed it to read ‘our Synod’ because that is what it was. We, the People of God here in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, have spoken and we have listened.
We have entered the mysterious task of discovering God in our midst and have entrusted others in our number to give this reflection shape and form. I do not know what the final fruit of our Synod will be, but one thing is certain: the Holy Spirit is alive in the Church of Parramatta.
Andrew Wilson is the Acting Head of Mission for Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese (CSPD) and has been a long-time parishioner of St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Springwood.
The Diocesan Synod Report summarising the Synod and its outcomes was released to the people of God in the Diocese of Parramatta on Friday 1 December. To read and download the document, and for future updates, visit the Synod website: https://parracatholic.org/synod2023/