Synodality in the light of The Epiphany of the Lord

Thursday 6th January is the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. In many places this day is the day of gift-giving as Christmas Day is for us. We tend to associate it with the three Wise Men who journey, following a star and eventually finding the ‘infant King of the Jews’, Jesus, in Bethlehem.

Shortly before Christmas the priests of the diocese were encouraged to speak about the idea of ‘Synodality’ in their parishes. The big question in relation to this is ‘what is synodality?’ How or where can you find a definition of it? Synods aren’t new. They were usually held on a diocesan level, called by the bishop, and those involved would have discussed relevant questions of the particular place and time in which they were living. They fell away during the second millennium and the idea of holding them came up for discussion at Vatican II and was taken on board. They have been held in Rome as the ‘Synod of Bishops’, with different topics being discussed at them and usually a document would be published afterwards in relation to the proceedings and the Pope responsible for the Synod would issue a document based on the topic and the discussions as well. Some dioceses around the world, including Limerick diocese here in Ireland, have held particular synods of their own. Recently Pope Francis has introduced the understanding of a style of governance entitled ‘synodality’. It stems from the idea of the synod but opens it up on the universal and the local level for more dialogue with the People of God as a whole within the process of preparing and holding a synod.

Reacting to the approach to speak about the topic in the light of the Christmas season, we thought that the example of the three wise men gives some very good pointers to what synodality is. The wise men arrive in Jerusalem and they ask where is the infant king of the Jews. They say they had seen his star rise and had come to do him homage. On seeing what they considered a sign of a king the wise men decided to search for that king. Something new was happening and they wanted to explore it and be part of it by paying the new king homage. King Herod is informed and he gets the scribes to search for what scripture contained about where the Christ was to be born. The answer they give him is at Bethlehem in Judaea as the prophet wrote and quote the passage. Herod meets the wise men on their own, speaks with them, tells them to go to Bethlehem and then tells them to return after and let him know what they had found. Having received an answer to their question they move on to the next part of the journey of exploring and head out of Jerusalem, the star appears before them again and leads them to the house where they find Jesus and his mother Mary. They pay homage, give him gifts but are warned not to return to Herod but go home by a different way.

What the wise men point out for us in relation to synodality can be summed up in the following points: firstly, questions in relation to our faith must be posed; then, those questions must be reflected upon; and that is followed by dialogue, a true dialogue that needs to take place, where everyone involved listens to those who speak. We are told that the wise men were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod but to return home by a different way – in a process of synodality, that would be like everyone involved being aware during the dialogue that it is open to the Spirit, who guides us in reading the signs of the times, in the light of the faith that we have received from the ‘infant king of the Jews’, Jesus. The signs of the times may help us to look at, understand and live the faith given to us in ‘a different way’ to how we may have looked at it previously.