The Holy Spirit at Work

2018 Synod of Bishops: The Holy Spirit at Work

by Leo Jaboni, Ed.D

Whenever God sends his Son, he always sends his Spirit for their mission is conjoined and inseparable; and the Holy Spirit builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 743 & 747). The Synod (instituted on September 15, 1965 by Pope Paul VI, now a saint canonized last October 14, 2018) is a manifestation of the episcopal communion of the Bishops with and under the Pope, in solicitude for the universal Church. Under the inspiring leadership of St. Paul VI, the Second Vatican Council deepened the doctrine of the episcopate within the ecclesiastical tradition focusing particularly on its sacramentality and its collegial nature (Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and Christus Dominus, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops).

The Synod exercises a “consultative role” on ecclesial issues “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” and it “might also enjoy a deliberative power, should the Roman Pontiff wish to grant this”, and the Bishops chosen to participate in a Synod are “united in the search for a consensus that springs not from worldly logic, but from common obedience to the Spirit of Christ” (Pope Francis, Episcopalis Communio, Apostolic Constitution on the Synod of Bishops, September 15, 2018).

The Holy Spirit in the Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment

Pope Francis, in his homily at the opening Mass for the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome (October 3-28, 2018), recalled the promise of Jesus to the Church: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

He shared a reflection on the promise: “the Holy Spirit will be the first to preserve, to keep alive and relevant, the memory of the Lord in the heart of his disciples…a memory capable of enkindling our hearts and discerning the ways of the Spirit”.

He then asked the more than 300 participants which included bishops, clerics and religious, 49 auditors and 36 young people representing 5 continents to pray to the Paraclete “to help us preserve the memory of the Lord and enkindle in us his words that have made our hearts burn” (referring to Luke 24:32) and to adapt the “attitude of docile listening to the voice of the Spirit”.

Expounding on the synod’s theme: youth, faith and vocational discernment, he invited the bishops, anointed by a challenging hope, “to get up and look directly into the eyes of young people and see their situations” and “to make efforts to reverse situations of uncertainty, exclusion and violence, to which our people are exposed.”

The young people, the Pope continues, “call us to join them in facing the present with greater commitment and to work against whatever prevents their lives from growing in a dignified way” demanding of us “a creative dedication, a dynamism which is intelligent, enthusiastic and full of hope” and asking us “not to leave them alone in the hands of so many peddlers of death who oppress their lives and darken their vision”.

Letter from the Synod Fathers to Young People (October 28, 2018): Response to Jesus and to the Youth.

The Bishops tell the young people: “In these days, we have gathered together to hear the voice of Jesus, ‘the eternally young Christ’, and to recognize in Him your many voices, your shouts of exultation, your cries, and your moments of silence.”

Recognizing the youth’s inner searching, joys and hopes, pains and anguish in their longings, the Synod Fathers renewed a commitment: “Now we want you to hear a word from us: we wish to be sharers in your joy, so that your expectations may come to life” and expressed the hope: “We are certain that with your enthusiasm for life, you will be ready to get involved so that your dreams may be realized and take shape in your history.”

The writers end this short letter with a challenge to the youth: “You are the present; be a brighter future.”

The Final Document: Work of the Holy Spirit

In its introduction to Synod 18- Final Document and Votes of the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops to the Holy Father Francis (October 27, 2018), the Synod Fathers declared: “It is the experience we have made in this Synod, walking together and listening to the voice of the Spirit. He has amazed us with the richness of his gifts, he has filled us with his courage and his strength to bring hope to the world.” Through this “fruit of the Synod” the Bishops expressed a desire: “We want to share with everyone the experience of grace that we have lived and transmit to our Churches and to the whole world the joy of the Gospel” (Synod 18 – Final Document, 1).

In consonance with the Gospel episode of the disciples of Emmaus (see Lk 24: 13-35) the document has three parts: “The first part is entitled ‘He walked with them’ (Lk 24,15) and seeks to illuminate what the Synod Fathers recognized as the context in which young people are inserted, highlighting their strengths and challenges. The second part, ‘Their eyes were opened (Lk 24:31), is interpretative and provides some fundamental interpretations of the Synod theme. The third part, entitled ‘They left without delay’ (Lk 24.33), collects the choices for a spiritual, pastoral and missionary conversion” (Synod 18 – Final Document, 4).

In the episode, the Bishops recognizes that “The Holy Spirit kindles the heart, opens the eyes and arouses the faith of the two travelers… The desire for life in love and the healthy restlessness that inhabits the hearts of the young are part of the great yearning of all creation towards the fullness of joy. In each of them, even in those who do not know Christ, the Creator Spirit acts to lead them to beauty, goodness and truth” (Synod 18 – Final Document, 59).

In their deliberations and reflections on the Synod’s theme, the Fathers affirm that the Spirit rejuvenates the Church: “Youth is an original and stimulating period of life, which Jesus himself lived, sanctifying. The Message to the youth of the Second Vatican Council (December 7, 1965) presented the Church as the ‘true youth of the world’, which possesses ‘the ability to rejoice for what it begins, to give itself without return, to renew itself and to start again conquests.’ With their freshness and their faith young people contribute to show this face of the Church, which reflects ‘the great Living, the eternally young Christ’. It is not therefore a matter of creating a new Church for the young, but rather of rediscovering with them the youth of the Church, opening us to the grace of a new Pentecost” (Synod 18 – Final document, 60).

Pope Francis commented on the Final Document: “We have made the document, we have studied it, we have approved it. Now the Holy Spirit gives us the document to work in our heart”. For him, “It was the Spirit at work here”. The document, if approved by the Roman Pontiff, participates in the ordinary magisterium of the Successor of Peter.

After the Synod, the Journey of Faith: Challenge and Commitment

Closing the assembly with a Mass (October 28), Pope Francis, in his homily, picked it up where he left off at the opening, reflecting on the Gospel of Mark (10: 46-52). In what he calls journey of faith he named three fundamental steps: to listen, to be a neighbor, and to bear witness.

Listening before speaking: opening ears and hearts that allows the other to speak and make pleadings, doing the “apostolate of the ear” with “a heart that listens” (we ask the young to forgive us: for “instead of opening our hearts, we have filled your ears”).

Being a neighbor to all: getting “personally involved with preferential love for every person”, communicating the message by actions, the heart of the faith that is “living in the love of God who has changed our lives”, in communion with our brothers and sisters.

Bearing witness in our response to Jesus who calls us: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you” (Mark 10: 49); his call transforms and heals the lives of his followers who help those who have fallen and bring light to where there is darkness; he calls while he heartens those who answer.

The Holy Father ends with a prayer: “May the Lord bless our steps, so that we can listen to young people, be their neighbors, and bear witness before them to Jesus, the joy of our lives”.

Through the Synod of Bishops, the Holy Spirit renews the face of the Church building, animating and sanctifying the Mystical Body of Christ. As in an on-going Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on the Synod (and continues to pour the same Spirit on the Church today).
Note: the author is a member of the St. Gregory Catholic Charismatic Group educated in international universities (Bachelor of Arts in Classical Philosophy, OAR School of Philosophy, Baguio, Philippines; Bachelor’s in Theology, OAR International School of Theology, Navarre, Spain; License in Catechetics and Pastoral Theology, Lumen Vitae, Brussels, Belgium; M.A. in Religious Studies, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium; M.S. in Human Resource Management, Loyola University-Chicago; Doctorate in Education in Organizational Leadership, Argosy University, Phoenix, AZ). He is the Chairman of the Board of the Divine Mercy Community (DMC).