By Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, Catholic News Service
As a child, I can fondly recall the ways that I was able to participate in the life of my church parish of St. Augustine’s in New Roads, Louisiana — assisting as an altar server or volunteering at various youth functions.
As a priest and as a bishop, I have seen so many good people give of themselves selflessly for their parish communities.
When people have a part to play, they become more invested in their particular parish community, and those relationships bear great fruit in the lives of so many. A healthy, mission-driven parish where both clergy and laity are participating is an influential force in witnessing to the beauty and power of the Gospel.
The Second Vatican Council desired to renew the Church’s understanding of the integral and complementary role of both the ministerial priesthood as well as the common priesthood of the lay faithful. Consistent with the spirit of the council, one of the desires of Pope Francis in focusing the 2023 Synod of Bishops on the synodal nature of the Church is to continue the reorientation of the clergy and the lay faithful toward a greater sense of participation in the mission of the Church.
One of the themes of the synod is “Authority and Participation,” which seeks to foster a greater sense of cooperation and participation from all members of the Church, especially those who are most marginalized. A truly synodal Church is one that listens and collaborates with all people, listening for what the Spirit is saying through them.
In an address given at the 2009 Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “Too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services.”
Thus encouraged, a shift in mindset is required, moving from viewing the laity as mere collaborators with the clergy to recognizing that the clergy and laity are “co-responsible” for the Church’s well-being and action. It is the role of the Church’s hierarchy to foster this deeper sense of authority and co-responsibility by the clergy and laity, with due regard for the respective roles of the clergy and the laity. Too often, the participation of the lay faithful is viewed in a narrow and limited way.
Participation in the liturgical expression of the faith, or in select groups in the parish community, are only a few of the ways the many parts of the body of Christ can work together.
It is important to recognize, however, that we cannot be content with simply going through these exercises at set times, such as a diocesan or worldwide synod. Rather, the invitation is to make this effort with regard to authority and participation an ongoing reality in the Church, a way of life where we always embrace mutually respectful collaboration, listening to one another and to the Holy Spirit and, most importantly, an openness to being impacted or changed by whatever we are called to by the Holy Spirit.
This collaboration is not always easy — we may not like what we hear, and it may be a difficult process to journey through challenging dynamics.
However, bringing these things to light allows the Spirit of God to work in and through us in a powerful way. It deepens our trust when we follow wherever the Lord is leading us, and God will do great things in the lives and hearts of all people, even if we may not be able to understand them in the moment. It creates an atmosphere of openness that fosters unity within the particular church, not just on a functionary level, but on a deeper, more spiritual level.
It is the goal of the synod process to assist the Church in coming to a deeper understanding and living out of the full cooperation of the clergy and lay faithful in the mission of the Church.