Pope Francis has called on us all to engage in the discernment of the future direction of the Church, in a Universal Synod.
Our Gospel values remain consistent, from age to age, just as Jesus is “the same yesterday, day and forever” and is the “Way, the Truth and the Life”. But the way that we interpret and live those values, and imitate Christ in the way we think and act, must find context in the fast-changing world in which we live. There are two immediate dimensions. Looking inwards on ourselves as members of the Church, we have that responsibility to seek the presence of Christ among us and to discover the promptings of the Holy Spirit through respectful listening and speaking. This does not necessarily need the structures of a formal synod but is more an attitude of mind and a practice of our faith in community. Then there is the dimension of looking outwards, and engagement with others. We must learn to think and act differently in our industrialised world where we now recognise the science that tells us that we are plundering our resources and negatively impacting on the lives of all our brothers and sisters, and ourselves, and damaging our common home.
In a cosmopolitan world we must enter into dialogue with other Faiths and, recognising our common beliefs in the sanctity of life and the eradication of poverty which we share, we must think and act globally about the problems and challenges that threaten our world; the growing inequality, human trafficking, the plight of refugees, migration in the light of climate change. We need to recognise that the Gospel must not be lost or compromised in an age of materialism and secularisation. Pope Francis invites each and every one of us to assist in discerning the future, not entering an argument with opinions which we want to see ratified and enforced but through a genuine openness and concern that we vision our future and identify the next steps of our journey – asking what God requires of us and all that He wants us to be.
The Universal Synod begins in our families, parishes, schools, chaplaincies and communities. Pope Francis is providing a series of questions from which we may select any to which we may want to reply. Discernment is founded on prayer and is an offering of our thoughts as a contribution to a universal conversation. There is no question of winning an argument but of recognising God’s will.
The time for consultation is short and submissions need to be made by February 2022. I endorse Pope Francis’ invitation to you to think and to pray and to enter the conversation, which will assist the Bishops of England and Wales to formulate our collective response, which in turn will be considered in the full Synod gathering in Rome in 2023. Working together, reflecting on our experience and knowledge, we will discover the guidance of the Holy Spirit and proclaim Jesus and his ministry and truth in the times in which we live, for the flourishing of future generations.
Bishop John Arnold