Synodality in the Pastoral Action of the Community: Structures of Communion


Recollection Material – November 2022

Phil. 2: 1 – 5.

Synodality is not only an interesting idea or that is of fashion, but is communion put into action and as such, it requires a series of structures to accomplish it in every pastoral context. If synodality can be defined as dialogue, discernment and co-responsibility, it is necessary that in the parishes co-responsibility be alive through the pastoral councils, the council on economic affairs and the pastoral assemblies. In a school, synodality can and should also be alive, since it can be accomplished through the integration of the directive teams, through the creation of true education communities and the associations of past alumni, among other structures. In other campuses and levels, synodality can also be alive by favoring structures of communion as can be given in formative teams and in the structures of communion at the service of the mission. That is why this month let us reflect on the pastoral action of the community and the structures of communion.

Return to yourself.

          On this day of recollection, it is important that you take a pause, to return to your heart, to meditate, to ask God that you be able to have the same sentiments of Christ, not those of the world in which we live, that you be capable to imitate the humility of the Lord:

For the same reason, we also bear in the forehead the sign of the Cross. Who understands it? I tell you this, brothers, because there are many who sign themselves with it but who do not like to understand. God seeks doers of the signs, not those who simply sign themselves exteriorly. If you bear on your forehead the sign of the humility of Christ, carry also in the heart the imitation of his humility (s. 32, 13).

Your voice is my joy.

          Christ is the voice of God that always speaks even though he is not always heard (s. 51, 17). On this day of recollection open the ears of the heart to receive, like the good soil, the Word of God (Mt 13:8).

          (Phil. 2:1-5)  -1- If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, -2- complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. -3- Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, -4- each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. -5- Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Chris Jesus. +

The Firmament of the Scriptures.

Biblical Keys.

          The first part of chapter 2 (vv. 1 – 11) consists of one exhortative part and of the hymn to the humility of Christ. Our text today is limited to the exhortation (vv. 1 – 5), even though it cannot be understood in its totality without the hymnal part that develops the meaning of the expression “to have the sentiments of Christ” (v.5), that is the center of our reflection.

          Chapter 2 begins with the Apostle’s call to be heard. The message, that in continuation he will address to them, is the center of his preaching and his struggles for it. Paul asks from the Philippians for positive attitudes towards him: consolation of love, communion in the Spirit, heartfelt love, mercy, “complete my joy, feeling the same” (v. 2). All these conditions are necessary to be able to share, to be in communion, have the same sentiments, “complete my joy with the same sentiment, one same love, one same spirit, all seeking the same” (v. 2). The exhortation of Paul includes actions that must be avoided: “do nothing for ambition nor for vainglory.” Afterwards he offers a series of virtues to be cultivated: “do these things for humility, considering others as better than yourself” (v. 3) not seeking “one’s own interest, but that of others” (v. 4). Finally, comes the determining exhortation: “have the same sentiments as Christ” (v.5).

          Having the same sentiments as Christ means to imitate him along the road of

communion and humility. The vv. 2 – 4 give various keys of these two attitudes: to have one same feeling, one same love, one same spirit and objective, i.e., to be in communion; to do nothing for ambition or for vainglory, but for humility, considering others as better than oneself, i.e., avoiding all pride and arrogance. The insistence on not seeking one’s own interest, but those of others, is related with the ideal of the primitive community, as regards to the community of material and spiritual goods (cf. Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-34). What is sought is one same dignity and equality. No one is superior to the others, not even the Apostles, because its ministry is a service in favor of the community (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). Even then, over and above the community, is the only true priest, the Lord Jesus (cf. Heb. 4:14-16).

          The absolute authority belongs to Christ, that is why, He and no one else is the model for the community and for every one of the believers (cf. Eph. 5:1). The hymn that is developed from vv. 6 – 11 is a praise of Christ who humbles himself for the salvation of men, and who is exalted by the Father, bestowing upon him the Lordship over all mankind: “and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (v. 11). The Servant Jesus, the New Adam, is also Lord.

          The Servant Jesus gives an example for every believer, that is why the invitation of the Apostle is to know him and imitate him, but not only individually but also as community. Paul does not conceive salvation as merely a personal enterprise, but as a fruit of community life. The community is the place where salvation is realized. Every community must seek this communion and strive to maintain it, that is why humility is necessary, as the measure of communion: the interest on what is common, the respect for the other, avoiding ambitions and the particular avarice.

Augustinian Keys.

          Today in our recollection, we meditate on synodality in action, that is manifested in different structures of communion, in which it is asked to have unity, as is pointed out in the text of the Letter to the Ephesians that enlightens us today. When the Bishop of Hippo comments on this text, he reminds us in the first place, of the importance of unity. St. Augustine, who lived in a Church divided by the Donatist Schism, loved and sighed for unity. In the diverse synodal structures, the pastoral and economic councils among others, there is need for unity; as St. Augustine points out, following the Pauline text, unity of spirit, of mind, of intention, and of desire. That above all the structures should not be elements that form part of the organization that are ineffective, because they do not have unity and in their midst reigns the particular interests or of a specific group. St. Augustine points out that when there is no unity, there exists only a mob, and a mob that is nothing else than a people that is perturbed, agitated, outside of itself. A parish council, a directing council of a school cannot be like this.

From where comes this calm in so great a multitude? Assure me of the unity and there is a people, remove the unity and there is a crowd. For, what is a crowd but a perturbed multitude? Listen to the Apostle: I beg you brothers – he says to a multitude that wants to become a unity, – I beg you, brothers, that you all say the same, that there be among you no schisms, but that you be perfectly united in the same desire and in the same mind (s. 103, 2).

          On the other hand, St. Augustine points out and emphasizes how in the Scriptures unity is recommended to us, such that Christ himself in the Gospel according to St. John in the Priestly Prayer, asks the Father that his own become only one thing, as he is one with the Father (Jn. 17:22). And St. Augustine cannot cease to quote his favorite text in the Acts of the Apostles, reminding that the Primitive Community of believers had only one soul and one heart. In this case, of Sermon 103, since it is an early sermon of the Bishop of Hippo, he does not put the famous addition “directed towards God” (“in Deum”), nevertheless, the desire and the mind of St. Augustine is found in reality.

Live harmoniously, have the same sentiment; do nothing for rivalry or for vainglory. The Lord also asks the Father on behalf of his own: That they may be one as we are one. The same is read in the Acts of the Apostles: The multitude of those who had believed had one soul and one heart (…) Only one thing is needed: the heavenly unity, the unity by which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are but one thing (s. 103, 3).

          It is important, therefore, that unity exist in the diverse structures with which synodality will concretely exist, avoiding pride above all, which without fail gives birth to envy (invidia filia est superbiae:  s. 354,4), and makes that personal interests be sought not those of the community. The Pauline text that enlightens us today clearly manifests it. It is necessary that particular and personal interest be put aside and common interests be sought, having the same sentiments as Christ (Phil. 2:5). In the pastoral councils and in the school management, the will of God is sought, which is the goal of the synodal process, not the fulfillment of personal projects imposed by pride or by manipulation, a fruit of intrigues. In the councils, one must not forget the tools proper to synodal process, the dialogue, listening, and discernment.

          And in this way, we imitate and hold the same sentiments of Christ, that would be the key to the whole Pauline text. St. Paul emphasizes above all humility. And when St. Augustine comments on the text of the Letter to the Philippians, he not only dwells on humility, that invites us to consider others as better than ourselves, recognizing, not what we already have, but what we still lack on the road to God and in our personal life (adsit-desit: s. 354, 4), but which also manifests that imitating the sentiment of Christ is manifest in what the text of Gal. 6:2 says: learn to carry the burdens of one another,  i.e., to be disposed to help out of love and charity (diu. Qu. 71,3).

          But still there is one more detail. To imitate the sentiments of Christ is to learn from him mercy, which is the star sentiment of the Heart of Jesus, such and as the texts of the New Testament present it to us, as a sentiment applied to Christ, or to personalities of parables who take the place of Jesus or the Father, and this mercy is shown in a concrete element, do not judge, but accept, comprehend, from charity:

To this thought this other is also added: that he assumed humanity, while  we are men. And we have to admit that the weakness, of the soul as well as of the body, that we see in another man we could also have or can have it. Let us, therefore, manifest to that one whose weakness we like to bear, that which we wanted that he manifest to us, if unfortunately we were in it and he were not (diu. Qu. 71, 4).

          If in our parish councils, in the school councils, in the community councils, we could learn to be more compassionate and carry the burdens of others, things would be very different. St. Augustine says something as carved on stone: Superbia parit discissionem, caritas unitatem. (Pride gives birth to division {tearing apart}, charity to unity. S. 46, 18).

Five urgent texts: Synodality, structures of communion.

Texts from the Document “Synodality in the Life and the Mission of the Church”

(SVMI), of the International Theological Commission, 2018.

          1. “In the particular Church, the Christian testimony is incarnated in specific human and social situations, permitting an incisive activation of synodal structures for the service of the mission. As Pope Francis has underlined it, only in the measure that these organisms remain connected with the ‘base’ and comes from the people, from daily problems, can they begin to form a synodal Church” (no. 77).

          2. In the particular Church are foreseen in permanent form diverse organisms destined to help in diverse forms the ministry of the Bishop in the ordinary pastoral guidance of the Diocese: The Diocesan Curia, the College of Consultants, the Chapter of Canons, and the Council for Economic Matters” (no. 80).

          3, “By indication of the Vatican Council II, there were instituted the Presbyterial Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council as permanent fields of exercise and promotion of communion and synodality” (no. 80).

          4. “The Diocesan Pastoral Council is constituted to contribute in a qualified manner in the joint pastoral promoted by the bishop and his presbyterium, becoming in some occasions also a place of decisions under the specific authority of the Bishop” (no. 81).

          5. “In it (the parish) two structures of synodal profile are foreseen: the Parish Pastoral Council and the Council for Economic Affairs, with the participation of the laity in the consultation and pastoral planning. In this sense, it appears necessary that the canonical norm be modified which at present only suggests the constitution of the Parish Pastoral Council and that it be made obligatory, as the last Diocesan Synod of Rome has done” (no. 84).

From the Word to the Action.

          The Synodal life would have no meaning without some concrete structures that would make it possible.

          How do the structures of synodal communion function in the ministry where you find yourself?

          Since it is necessary to live in synodal harmony in our ministries, what elements do you believe should be empowered for it, in the ministries where you find yourself? (You can make a list according to importance and urgency.)

Final Prayer.

          Let us, therefore, love our God, let us love one another in the unity of God himself, let us have peace in him and love among us, so that when Christ our Lord himself comes, we can say: “Lord, with your help, we did what you commanded us; in your mercy, give us what you promised” (154A, 6). +

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Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.