In an effort to explain Pope Francis’ vision for the Synod on Synodality for his flock, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's homily Sunday offered seven “non-negotiables” that Jesus intended for the Church.
The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis earlier this month, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses.
A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.
“[Pope Francis] wants us to join him in praying, listening, discerning, examining ourselves personally, and the Church communally, to see if we’re truly on the path Jesus has set for His beloved bride, His mystical body, the Church,” Dolan said.
“He has reminded us of certain clear essentials intended by Jesus, constant, although, at times, we admit, clouded and dimmed, in the Church’s amazing 2,000-year drama. Here are some of those non-negotiables.” Dolan went on to outline the following points:
- Dolan said that “the energy and direction driving the Church comes from the Holy Spirit, not ourselves.”
- "While in the world, we are not of the world, and thus our guiding principles come from the Gospel, revelation, and the patrimony of the Church’s settled teaching," he said.
- Dolan said “that the principles of the innate dignity of every human person and the inherent sacredness of all human life are the towering moral lighthouses on our path.”
- Dolan said that "our journey through this life back to our true and eternal home of heaven is most effectively accomplished precisely as a journey as we walk with and accompany each other, with Jesus as our guide, His Mother and the saints, and we sinners at each other’s side.”
- "On this journey we pay special attention to those at the side of the road, especially those who are sick, weak, poor, or unable to keep up with us,” he said.
- "Our wealth only comes from faith, trust, prayer, the sacraments, and His grace," he said.
- Finally, Dolan said that "mercy, love, invitation, humility, joy, selfless generous service, and good example are our only tools, never harshness, condemnation, or pride.”
Dolan said he sees these seven “non-negotiables” as “synodality in a nutshell.”
He said that throughout its history, the Church has “expanded and developed its style of organization and authority.”
After comparing and contrasting the different sufferings and triumphs the Church has experienced throughout its history, Dolan said that “now the successor of Saint Peter as bishop of Rome and pastor of the Church Universal, Pope Francis, has asked us all to commence an examination of conscience on how we as a Church are living up to the model of the Church given us by Jesus.”
“We are loyal Catholics,” Dolan added. “The Holy Father has asked us to help him keep the Church always under the direction Jesus, our good shepherd, intends.”
The concept of "synodality" has been a topic of frequent discussion by Pope Francis, particularly during the previous ordinary Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018.
Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is "the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God."
The term is generally understood to represent a process of discernment, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, involving bishops, priests, religious, and lay Catholics, each according to the gifts and charisms of their vocation.
Pope Francis told the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's theological commission in November 2019 that synodality will be key for the Church in the future.
The Vatican announced in May that the Synod on Synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.
A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” at the Vatican in October 2023.
Dolan shared his homily on Monday after noting that "many have asked about the “'synod process’ initiated by Pope Francis.”
The Cardinal acknowledged in his homily that he himself has questions. “I don’t know if I completely understand [Synodality]," Dolan said, adding that "the Holy Father is honest in admitting that neither does he have the full comprehension, which is precisely why he has summoned us to this endeavor.”