The first General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” commonly referred to as the “Synod on Synodality” is upon us. It will take place throughout this month of October. In preparation for this gathering, I have already written four articles about the synod.
As admitted therein, there have been a lot of concerns about the synod presented in numerous articles and on social media. In this series of articles, I have acknowledged the bases of such concerns, such as the problematic actions taken by the German Synodal Way and certain statements made in official reports about the listening sessions of the synod. Recently, Bishop Barron himself has expressed his own concern in an article on this same platform, Evangelization & Culture Online.1
While acknowledging the legitimacy of the substance of the concerns, I have also attempted to provide a counterbalance to the fear that the synod will radically alter the perennial teaching of the Church. To do so, I have pointed out that the Vatican—including the Pope—has already expressed many of the same concerns and has already rejected some of the proposals that many have been afraid of. In this same vein, I would like to offer some further thoughts on how we can prepare ourselves for this synod.
There might be some who think my approach thus far has been overly optimistic if not naïve. However, in my own defense, I would like to say that there is a very good reason for this: my faith. If the Synod on Synodality were merely a political gathering of government officials, I might be more afraid, despite the objective evidence I provided in the preceding articles. However, I do not approach ecclesial matters the same way I approach secular affairs. I believe (credo) in the indefectibility of the Church. I do not believe that the Holy Father will promulgate heresies or destroy the divinely instituted hierarchical governance of the Church. There have been plenty of attempts to do so in the history of the Church that were real and legitimate concerns in their own day. Yet here we are—here the Church is—having endured the attempts of the evil one to destroy the Church from within and from without. In other words, I rest on the promise of Our Lord to St. Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Are there proponents of policies and doctrines contrary to Church teaching? Yes. Will they prevail? No. That is my belief. Accordingly, my first recommendation is to have faith, not in the machinations of sinful men, but in the protection of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church into all truth (see John 16:13). I suspect that we will read things about and from the Synod that will disturb us, as we already have. In the midst of this, do not slip into despair but rather persevere in faith, trusting in Our Lord.
My second recommendation is this: with hope, pray for members of the Synod and the Holy Father, Pope Francis. This is what Bishop Barron himself as requested of us in that aforementioned article: “Could I ask you please to pray for me and for all the delegates to the synod as we commence our work? And might I ask that your prayer take the form of a simple invocation of the Holy Spirit? Veni Sancte Spiritus [Come Holy Spirit]!” If you are afraid that some participants in the Synod hold heterodox views, pray even harder for them. Numerous people who were once greatly opposed to the Church’s teaching on a variety of topics have come around to embrace them wholeheartedly. Conversions happen every day. Even if not all will be convinced of the truth, there is reason to believe that some will heed the exhortation of St. Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). I, for one, am grateful for good bishops, like Bishop Barron, who will be there at the Synod to provide a faithful approach to the matters under discussion. Pray for them that the Holy Spirit will enable them to speak with convincing power to the assembly. In your prayer, foster within yourselves the gift of the virtue of hope.
Finally, hold fast to the virtue of charity. We are called to love the Church as a gift from God. Even when our fellow Catholics—including members of the hierarchy—give us reason to lament, we must resist the temptation to foster animosity against the Church herself. She is no mere human society; she is the mystical body of Christ endowed with real authority under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are also called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (see Matt. 5:44).
Jesus once predicted that “because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). At first glance, we may be tempted to think that this prediction is referring to those who are committing the sins. After all, mortal sin destroys charity in the soul. However, it may also be referring to the faithful, who—upon seeing the atrocities of others—may begin to lose their love for sinners, allowing hatred to prevail in their thoughts, words, and actions. We must guard ourselves against this temptation. There is a tendency in media—and especially on social media—for Catholics to excel at fomenting vitriol. We could legitimately be angry about a lot in the world and even in the Church, but we cannot allow charity to be driven from our hearts in the process.
For those who haven’t yet picked up on the theme of my recommendations for how to prepare ourselves for this Synod, let me state it more plainly. Our approach should be rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. As such, I conclude this article with a prayer given to the children of Fatima by the angel of peace: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love thee. And I beg pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love thee. Amen.”
1 Bishop Robert Barron, “As I leave for the Synod on Synodality,” Evangelization & Culture Online (Sept. 26, 2023).