What is happening in the Vatican is both unique and traditional. The Synod of Bishops that began this week reflects the ancient tradition of discerning the will of God that began with the Apostles when the question of Gentile converts was discerned at what is sometimes referred to as the Council of Jerusalem in the 15th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Under the leadership of Peter, the leaders of the young church prayed and after much debate discerned what should be required of Gentile converts. Peter confirmed and announced the results as, “The decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”
It is unique in that the Synod Fathers will have a much more open structure with open discussion than has been true in the past. In addition to the bishops, married couples and other lay persons are participating. This ancient process of discerning the Spirit was recalled by the Holy Father when he addressed the opening session of the Synod. Pope Francis called on the Synod Fathers to speak freely and openly and to listen to others with humility. “Therefore, I ask of you”, the Holy Father insisted, “these two attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with parrhesia and listen with humility. And do so with great tranquility and peace, because the Synod always takes place ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’ (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all and a protection of faith”.
In a blog last May I remarked on the Pope’s use of the term “parrhesia”. “It comes from the Greek παρρησία which means to speak with freedom.” It is used 31 times in the New Testament, where it means to speak boldly and fearlessly with courage and without ambiguity. Pope Francis spoke of the “parrhesia of the Holy Spirit.”
He also used the term “cum Petro et sub Petro” which is an ancient expression of collegiality. We recall the passage from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. 22, “Just as by the Lord’s will St. Peter and the other apostles constituted one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff as the successor of Peter, and the bishops as the successors of the apostles are joined together.”
We must keep in mind that the Synod is a discerning body, not a legislative one. Its purpose is to reflect on how to apply the teachings of Jesus to contemporary pastoral situations. The fruits of this extraordinary synod will provide input for the ordinary Synod in 2015.
Please join me in prayer for the Holy Father and the Synod Fathers as they seek the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit.
Image credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring
This post is also available in/Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish