More a Heartbeat Than an Institution: Synod Report for October 13, 2023

In his remarks introducing the third module, or subject for spiritual conversation, to the Synodal Assembly this morning, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said that “men and women receive the same baptism and the same Spirit” and “the baptism of women is not inferior to the baptism of men.”

The cardinal, who serves as the Synod’s realtor general, asked, “How can we ensure that women feel they are an integral part of this missionary church?”

He continued: “Do we, the men, perceive the diversity and the richness of the charisms the Holy Spirit has given to women . . . Do we feel enriched or threatened when we share our common mission and when women are co-responsible in the mission of the church, on the basis of the grace of our common baptism?”

The third module is rooted in section B.2 of the Instrumentum Laboris, titled “Co-responsibility in Mission.” It includes discussion points related to “greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women.”

In its suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection, the document states, “All Continental Assemblies call for the issue of women’s participation in governance, decision-making, mission and ministries at all levels of the Church, to be addressed, and for this participation to be given the support of appropriate structures so that this does not remain just a general aspiration.”

As if to underscore this point, today’s session of the Synodal Assembly was led by a woman: Sister María de los Dolores Palencia Gómez, superior general of the Congregation of St. Joseph of Lyon. 

Mother Maria Ignazia Angelini, former abbess of the Benedictine Abbey of Viboldone in northern Italy, was invited to give a reflection on the theme of “women and mission” following Cardinal Hollerich’s remarks.

Taking tomorrow’s reading of Luke 11:27-28 as her departure point, Mother Angelini spoke of how “the lightning-quick dialogue between Jesus and the anonymous woman in the crowd is full of symbolic, inspiring power. . . . That anonymous woman’s cry, in its humility, exorcises verbalism and proceduralism. It raises fruitful questions and clears the way.”

Mother Angelini brought the reading into dialogue with the book of Acts, specifically the passage where Paul arrives to Europe (16:11-15). “Paul was welcomed by a liturgy outside the ritual, among women, in the open air,” she said. “As on Easter morning, so too this beginning/threshold is without men.”

Her exegesis seemed to touch on two issues close to the heart of the emerging synodal church: the contributions of women, and a “care for our common home” crystallized in the image of offering praise under the open sky.

A few hours later, not far from the Synod hall, another Benedictine sister was invoking the early church: at the Spirit Unbounded “Human Rights in the Emerging Catholic Church” event being held in-person at the Casa Bonus Pastor in Rome, Sr. Joan Chittister gave a keynote address titled “Living the Discipleship of Equals.”

In many dioceses throughout the world, Sr. Chittister said, “parishes are being merged, closed, and turned into sacramental way stations served by retired priests or married male deacons—both of which are designed simply to keep the church male.”

She characterized this as “a far cry from the dynamism of the early church in which Prisca, and Lydia, Thecla, and Phoebe became disciples of Paul.”

Sr. Chittister said that she is “haunted” by the question of “what people really need in a period when the sacraments are being lost in a sacramental church, but all approaches to the question . . . about the nature and meaning of discipleship are being suppressed.”

“[The people] need what they needed when the faith was more a heartbeat than an institution,” she elaborated. “They need what they have always needed: community, not patriarchal clericalism.”

“The discipleship of women is the question that is not going to go away,” Sr. Chittister added. “Indeed, the discipleship of the church in regard to women is the question that will, in the long run, prove the church itself.” ♦

Michael Centore
Editor, Today’s American Catholic

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