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placeholder October 27, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
'Collegial' discussions should mark 2015 synod meeting

Rev. David K. O'Rourke, OP

A year ago Pope Francisco called for bishops to come together in Rome this month to look into the realities facing families and family life in the church today. They were charged with preparing a discussion document that could serve as the starting point for a much larger meeting of bishops next year.

These meetings of bishops have been going on for so many centuries that they still use the original Greek word for meeting — sunodos, or synod. The synod ended this week, after first publishing a summary for review by all the participants, and then the discussion document for next year's larger meeting.

The ways we look at the world around us usually falls into two patterns. One way is to look around us and see how things actually are. That's descriptive, just the actual facts. The other way is to look around us and see how things should be. That's normative. History and the social sciences are descriptive. Law and theology are normative. There were aspects of both views in the synod, and they were presented in very interesting ways. And that was due to the tone set by Pope Francisco. It represents a return to the style of discussions that was common right after the Second Vatican Council, 50 years ago.

The descriptive views — the many ways people live in common, what families are like and have to deal with — were very wide. And the normative views — how we are to live our lives as members of the church and followers of Christ — were described using the language of the Council about bishops and people working together for the life of the church.

The faith of the church is established. But the administrative style of the church government is not. It changes, depending on time, culture and pressures like persecutions.

For example, there were probably more Christians killed for their faith in the 20th century — millions of them — than in all the centuries of our life before that. Pope St. John Paul's Polish church had seen how Lenin and Stalin had annihilated the Russian Orthodox Church during the 1920s and 1930s. And they were determined that when Stalin conquered Poland in 1940 they would stand like a rock wall and prevent that happening to them.

Pope John Paul II's administrative style reflected the muscular life the Poles developed during those terrible years. I went to work in the former Soviet Union just six years after the Soviet tanks left Vilnius where I was working, so I know what Soviet persecution can do.

But in this preparatory document under Pope Francisco's direction we have gone back to the collegial view that was used in the Vatican Council.

It begins quoting from the council decree called "The Church in the Modern World." This also looked at all the realities of life in our world. And the end of the preparatory document says we will address them "on the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God's people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit." It reflects Pope Francisco's hopefulness. And a year from now we will see it all at work again.

(Father O'Rourke is parochial administrator at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Point Richmond and defender of the bond for the diocesan Department of Canon Law/Marriage Tribunal.)

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