Journeying Together: A Demanding but Beautiful Art

Like the twelve, we too “learn” to live Jesus in the exchange of our gifts, of our vocations, of our differences.

© Photo by Megan Nixon at Unsplash

4 min read
Bill Neu

You were a member of the International Theological Commission (ITC) in 2018 when it issued the document, Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church. You are now secretary general of the ITC and a member of the Coordinating Committee and Theological Commission preparing the 2023-2024 Bishops’ Synod, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” That ITC document claims that synodality assures unity in the Church over time. How would you respond in this context to Catholics who fear a rupture between today’s church and its longstanding tradition?

To say that the Church is synodal means making explicit what the Church is, what it is called to live, what it is sent out to witness and announce to everyone. That is what Jesus wanted. A great Church Father between the fourth and fifth century, John Chrysostom, writes, “Church (ek-klesía, in Greek) is a name that stands for journeying-together (sýnodos, in Greek).” 

Church and synod: they are two words describing in depth what we live as Christians, almost as if they complete one another. They are two nouns, but they remind us of two verbs; they do not express a static reality, but they bring two actions to mind which make us Jesus’ disciples. 

The first action: Church is the assembly of those called; being Church is being called, summoned, getting together because God in Jesus calls us to be together. He summons us. Therefore, it is God calling us at the start of everything and again and again. And this action of his is permanent. He calls us once and keeps calling us again and again every day—each one by name. 

The second action: guided, driven and sent by him, he calls us to journey together among everyone, to serve everyone—witnesses to the joy flowing from his call, and witnesses to the new life he shares with us. He calls us to plot out a way together, to be salt, leaven and light together. 

In the Gospel, Mark writes (in these words we can recognize what the Church “should be,” which is synod), “He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:13). The names of those called follow. 

This is the icon of the Church which is synod! We can draw three ideas to guarantee and invigorate our journey.

The first idea: we too, each one of us, are personally called by Jesus. His look of love and his calling are our identity, our joy, our life. 

The second idea: Jesus calls us to stay with Him—in other words to learn from Him to be like Him. This is our “school.” But a “school of God’s People,” as Pope Francis called it, not a school for individuals. 

Like the twelve, we too “learn” to live Jesus in the exchange of our gifts, of our vocations, of our differences. We learn Jesus by living his Word together, by living the Eucharist together, by living together reciprocal love and love for everyone, the love brought forth and formed by his love for us. 

The third idea: Jesus calls to be with Him to send, to go out. The Church is journeying and it is going out. As Mark’s account explains, it is going out to announce by witnessing and speaking about the One dwelling in and transforming our life. Having Jesus within, the strength is found to cast evil spirits out, to conquer what imprisons freedom, beauty, and the happiness of those next to us and of society, to conquer the “structures of sin” in order to build up instead “structures of freedom and love,” of justice and solidarity in the family, at school, in the economy and in politics. 

It is necessary to journey together to live all this. It is a demanding but beautiful art. It is the art of learning to discern together, the journey we must travel, listening to the Holy Spirit. This is what is asked of us as Church in living the synodal path to always come closer and closer to what we are by grace—nothing other than the Church, Jesus’ Church! 

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.