Sr Nathalie Becquart: A Theological Reflection on the 2018 Synod
The Synod, a time of grace
Ten days after the end of my mission at the Bishops' Conference on August 31, after completing my move from my Xavier community of Vanves to Toronto for the beginning of November, I arrived in Rome to prepare myself for the Youth Synod which took place from October 3 to 28. I was appointed by Pope Francis to participate as an observer in this ecclesial event that will so mark for me the end of ten years of ministry at the National Service for the Evangelization of Youth and for Vocations.
I received this appointment as a very beautiful gift to close this stage of my life, and at the same time I read it again today as a new beginning, an entry into a new period of sabbatical, opening up new horizons that are still unknown. Beyond what I could have imagined, this synod was an amazing and wonderful experience of the universal Church. A time of common listening to the Holy Spirit, a time of passage, like a pilgrimage, a blessed time of encounters and a true "walk together" with young people to discern the new paths of the Church’s mission today.
I come out of this month profoundly transformed, having received through this experience more immersion in the mystery of the Trinitarian life, and in the mystery of the Church, Body of Christ, Temple of the Spirit, People of God.
And I have the feeling that this October synod will also mark a new stage for the Church, which is called more than ever to pursue its path of reform by fostering more synodality.
I still have difficulty in finding the right words to talk about it – something like being on the move, or " put out into the deep water,". Nevertheless, I will try to evoke what we have experienced through three images: pilgrimage, discernment, Pentecost.
The Synod, a pilgrimage to the sources
We really lived this synod - from the Greek word "sun-odos" which means "to walk together" - as a walk together listening to the Holy Spirit", a walk with brothers and sisters from all continents, a walk in the form of a conversation, a very incarnate walk because the words of each one were inhabited by the concrete social realities of their field of origin, a journey marked by the simple and close presence of Pope Francis who presided over the Synod.
This pilgrimage journey has led us into a movement of conversion, a dynamic of common and collaborative research, to discern, through mutual listening and listening to the young bearers of the challenges of this world, to which the Church is called today. In this process we were invited us to honestly and humbly acknowledge the truth and simply name the reality of today's young people, their joys and sorrows, but also to identify without fear the strengths and weaknesses of the Church in its way of reaching and accompanying young people. As we did so we felt the great closeness of Christ who was accompanying us.
Every synod is deeply rooted in a liturgical act, in the Eucharist, and gives participants the opportunity to receive themselves together from the movement of Christ in His offering to the Father. This 15th Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops opened and also closed with a solemn Mass presided over by the Pope. In addition, the Word of God was at the centre of the synod hall and permeated our speeches. Thus, we had the impression that we really experienced something from the path of the disciples of Emmaus. This is why this passage was chosen as the main theme of the Final Document. Finally, a rhythm of prayer permeated our working days in the Aula as in the Circuli Minores and united us in the same faith beyond all differences of language, culture, status...
The Synod was a privileged time and space to follow Christ more closely and to experience how the Church is truly the Body of Christ, the presence of the Risen One on this earth. Thus, I lived these almost four weeks as a kind of great retreat, of Thirty days according to the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. In the shadow of the Tomb of St. Peter, with these pastors representing all the local churches, we plunged into the sources of faith, the sources of the Gospel, the sources of Trinitarian life, communion of love and model of every ecclesial community. This synod has led me once again into the waters of Baptism, into the paschal mystery, and has brought to life a form of new birth, a path of Resurrection. It also marks a new beginning for the Church and we had the impression that we were living a rather historical moment. Because it has made it possible, I believe, to take a great step forward in the reception of Vatican II.
The Synod, an exercise in discernment
I have been fortunate to have been deeply involved in the preparation of the Synod in France and the Vatican since its surprise announcement last October 2016 by Pope Francis. I had time to prepare myself spiritually for this event having been able in the previous weeks in Rome to read and work on the questions of the Synod while learning Italian. I felt a particular call to serve this synodal process by entering into the spiritual attitudes of discernment to be able to listen to the motions of the Spirit - in myself and in our assembly - while remaining in a great inner freedom. Having no institutional mission since my departure from the French Bishops’ Conference, I had the chance to live this synod simply as a Xavier sister, a religious among six other religious sisters among all the other participants.
I was particularly inspired by the desire to live at the heart of the Synod our Xavier mission of "making the link between all", based on these three attitudes highlighted during our last General Chapter: to live hospitality, to take care of, to console. When I arrived at the Synod, I realized that I already knew quite a few people in the different groups: bishops and cardinals, religious, special secretaries and experts, young people and auditors, members of the communication commission, the team of the General Secretariat of the Synod. I therefore tried to help connect them. I tried to build bridges, to enter into dialogue in a simple way over the days to weave communion. From all these many encounters, I have received a lot of joy and remain marked, touched by many exchanges that give an insight into the cultures, languages, concerns and realities of different countries and continents.
I was nourished by the humanity of the participants with whom I was able to share, by the very peaceful and fraternal atmosphere that reigned among us, by the spirit that flowed through the assembly, by the dynamism and enthusiasm of the young people, by the quality of the exchanges and reflections, by the spirit of openness and dialogue, by the attention paid to the words of the young people, the desire to take into account women.
This synodal process allowed the active involvement of all, including the auditors who were fully involved in the work. We experienced with joy the co-responsibility in a true collaboration with the bishops and cardinals. And it was fruitful. We felt that we were united by a common passion for young people with the same desire to proclaim Christ to them to help them discern their path of life. We tasted the joy of missionary communion, of unity in diversity. This "spiritual attunement" has given us a renewed energy to move forward boldly in the very experience of the fragility of the Church in these turbulent times of crisis.
We emerged with the strengthened conviction that synodality, "the constitutive dimension of the Church", is a key to the proclamation and transmission of the faith today and must become the "missionary style" of the Church to meet the challenges of our contemporary world. This is why the drafters of the Final Document of the Synod were led to devote an entire chapter to this theme of synodality, thus putting into words the path we have travelled. And by this we mean this clear call to implement locally at all levels "missionary synodality" in the Church.
And it seems to me that religious life, through its concrete experience of discernment as a way of life, has a particular role to play in the reception of this synod.
The Synod, a new Pentecost
As I was able to say at the beginning of my 4 minute presentation in plenary on the importance of diversified teamwork for the minister to young people today, we perceived and gave thanks "for this breath that passes through our assembly, the breath of the Spirit, the breath of the Second Vatican Council, the breath of young people that renews the Church when it puts them at the centre. ».
Thus, at the heart of our work, we experienced a kind of new Pentecost receiving like a flame, following Peter and the apostles in the Upper Room, the power of the Holy Spirit. With a burning heart, we "left" the Synod after the vote on the Final Document, like Peter and the Apostles of the Upper Room, sent to transmit the fire of the Synod, not being able to keep silent about what we have received.
We left Rome joyful and full of hope with the lively desire to be co-actors with the young people of this missionary Church which goes out to meet all young people, paying particular attention to those who are the most distant and most in difficulty. As Moses in the Burning Bush hears the Lord and the cry of his people - "I have seen, yes, I have seen the misery of my people..." (Ex 3, 7) - throughout these weeks we have heard loudly the sufferings, the struggles, the cries, the aspirations of the young. Thus, the issue of migration, which primarily affects young people, has been very present in our exchanges. But also that of unemployment or the digital world, without forgetting the persecutions, injustices, insecurity and poverty that obscure the future of many young people throughout the world.
We also heard from the young people present testimonies of faith that edified us, stories of salvation that gave us the opportunity to touch with our fingers the action of the Spirit in the lives of those who let themselves be transformed by the encounter with Christ. We have received a rejuvenation, a renewed faith, a missionary impulse, a new courage... And finally a call to dare to boldly invent new ways of being Church today in creative fidelity to be closer to young people and to walk with them, giving them more responsibility in confidence. For we have understood more deeply that they are a full part of the Church and are even a missionary driving force. That is why we must now seek in our different places of the Church how to associate them more as partners in the mission, first of all to evangelize young people, but not only. Indeed, on many subjects, they will help us to be more at the borders to meet the current challenges that particularly challenge them: the fight against injustice and poverty, the humanization and evangelization of the digital world, the reality of migrants and refugees, the implementation of integral ecology according to Laudato Si, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, the place of women in society and in the Church...
The Synod, laboratory of ecclesial life?
Finally, the synodal journey with its focus on the accompaniment of vocational discernment among young people has allowed us to deepen these key words declined in the second part of the Final Document: youth, vocation, discernment, accompaniment.
In Chapter 1 of this Part II, youth is seen as a gift, a privileged moment in life, that of the path to becoming a mature adult who can commit himself to the service of others until he makes a definitive choice of life. This path is a path of freedom and liberation, and to accomplish it, young people need guides.
The vocation - Chapter 2 of Part II - is presented as a mystery, the mystery of God's singular call for everyone who receives his life as a gift to give. The vocation is thus to live as an adventure, a path of transformation, a continuous creation, a dynamic identity. A vocation can only be understood and discovered within the very vocation of the Church, a community of called people, made up of a great variety of charisms.
Accompaniment in Chapter 3 is presented as the mission of the whole Church called to accompany each one in his different choices (commitments, profession, form of life...). Vocational discernment is lived in both community and personal accompaniment, which today requires an emphasis on the formation of quality spiritual guides capable of practicing and transmitting to others the art of discernment.
This art of discernment - well described in Chapter 4 - is a service of freedom exercised in this place of personal conscience and in what the biblical tradition calls "the heart", this inner place of listening and meeting God.
In the wake of the two synods on the family and Amoris Laetitia, this synod therefore highlighted the challenge of thinking today about Christian life in a complex world as a way of life, lived with discernment, which is an art of living listening to the Holy Spirit by daring to make choices in response to Christ's call.
However, one cannot discern alone but only in a common listening of the Spirit with brothers. In this sense, the Synod as a process is presented as a true ecclesial laboratory of discernment as well as a laboratory of fraternity to help us become more concretely these "discerning" brothers and sisters called together to put into practice this missionary communion that is the Church which goes forth.
The synodality highlighted by this synod can thus be understood as a way of formation to this art of living together in the plural Church of the plural world which is the art of living as a Christian according to the missionary style of Jesus and the first Christian communities. A style that, in the school of Pope Francis, emphasizes the mercy and common vocation of the baptized, all called to holiness. In this synodal Church, the missionary disciples who know themselves to be poor and fragile fishermen discover themselves with wonder called to be witnesses in acts of this mercy because they are co-responsible for a Church that is always on the path of spiritual, pastoral and missionary conversion.