God’s Priestly People: the Baptized, the Ordained & Synodality

By Fr. Bernard “Bob” Bonnot, Executive Director

The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperationin all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodalitywhich God expects of the Church of the third millennium. What the Lord is asking of us is already in some sense present in the very word “synod”. Journeying together — laity, pastors, the Bishop of Rome— is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice. -- Pope Francis, October 17, 2015 [Emphasis added]

AUSCP was founded in 2011 to be an Association of priests, by priests, for priests. AUSCP is a way for priests to support one another; to enable us as priests and pastors to raise a collegial voice; and to strengthen among us these specific qualities: 

(1) a readiness to dialogue,

(2) a strengthening of a contemplative spirit and approach to things, 

(3) a commitment to keep pressing for full implementation of the vision of Vatican II, that we be a  

     “Church in the Modern World”, and

(4) a willingness to take prophetic action.

Today that means supporting Pope Francis’ vision and initiatives. 

As indicated in the quote above, synodality is central to both Vatican II and Pope Francis. Vatican II referenced it as collegiality. All recent post-Vatican popes – Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI -- have spoken about the centrality of dialogue, shared responsibility, even co-responsibility (Benedict), but no one has brought the vision so clearly into focus as has Francis. He has consistently critiqued clericalism, which sets the ordained apart from the laity. Now he is writing synodality into Church law and practice. It is his formula for all the people of God to journey together, cooperate, so as a People of God we can get done what the Lord has asked of us as a People in our time. 

Happily, since 2014 AUSCP has welcomed lay Friends of priests and Vatican II to be part of our Association. We are together God’s Priestly People: the Baptized and the Ordained. We are increasingly working with laity and lay groups, but AUSCP’s mission and vision has far to go. We are still closer to our beginning than to our maturity, but we are at a turning point.

In this moment we are called and particularly challenged 

·      to declericalize, both clergy and laity, our mode of being and acting, 

·      to help decentralize the way the Church functions, and 

·      to play a role in the transformation of the Church from a hierarchical/patriarchal institution to a synodal, inclusive, and egalitarian community of God’s Priestly People.

We all have a lot to learn about what synodalitymeans.  On March 2, 2018, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission’s document on Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Paragraph #43 states: 

[T]he Church shares in the life of communion of the Blessed Trinity, which is destined to embrace the whole of humanity. In the gift and commitment of communion can be found the source, the form and the scope ofsynodality, inasmuch as it expresses the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the People of God in the responsible and ordered participation of allits members in discerning and putting into practice ways of fulfilling its mission. Exercising synodality makes real the human person’s call to live communion…. [Emphasis added]

Pope Francis made synodality the law of the Church when he signed the revised Constitution for the Synod of Bishops, Episcopalis Communio,in September 2018. 

Synodality applies to the entire Church from top to bottom.  Synodality is the context in which we of AUSCP must learn to function if we are to be effective in pursuing our Mission, our Vision, and our Values in these times. Our primary audience is not just other priests and our bishops but the whole people of God, specifically here in the U.S. We must know our core values and do everything we can to embody them, live them, and act on them for the good of God’s Reign, God’s People, the Church universal, and in a special way our brother priests and bishops. The responsibility of the  ordained is to minister to the priesthood of all the baptized. We are all God’s priestly people.

AUSCP’s continuing evolution requires strengthening. To grow in Membership, Structure, Stature, and Impact as desired, we must have a plan, a blueprint, a map and staffing to get us from where we are to where we discern AUSCP needs to go for the sake of the Church. The Collect prayer for the work of our Leadership Team during our January Retreat pleaded with God daily with these words: “Attend to the pleas of your people, O Lord, we pray, that we may see what must be done and gain strength to do what we have seen.” 

Our Church is currently embroiled in a national and international crisis. My meetings with priests as I travel evoke many groans and laments. Nuncio Christophe Pierre put it quite bluntly in his Fall 2018 address to our bishops:

Priests today are hurting and are experiencing a trauma over the abuse crisis. They are looking to you to be a father and brother who will listen …. Listening to them and sustaining them is essential to responding to their concerns …. 

During the week of AUSCP’s Leadership Team Retreat, Fr. George Smiga, a Pastor and Scripture professor St. Mary Seminary in the Diocese of Cleveland, commented in Give Us This Dayon the Letter to the Hebrews from which that week’s first readings were drawn: 

The letter to the Hebrews was written many centuries ago to Christians whose faith was being worn downby the demands of life. Its message still speaks to exhausted Christians today, encouraging us to protect the faith we have and turn confidently to God to provide the faith we need. [emphasis added]

We are blessed, privileged, and encouraged to live in this Vatican II era and in this time of Pope Francis. He is determined to move the Church forward in the direction set for the Church by the Holy Spirit during Vatican II. We too must be determined. Our Church is now 60 years into the project John XXIII started in January of 1959. AUSCP exists to be part of the Church’s healing and movement in Vatican II’s direction in the coming years. A synodal church is the context that allows us to do that, energetically. That’s how we must function, as a Priestly People of God consisting of the ordained and the baptized.

Our challenge as an Association is to pray and labor so AUSCP will be a steadily more contemplative, dialogical, hopeful, joyful, constructive, collaborative, pastoral and prophetic agent of service amongand with God’s Priestly People, in the Spirit and with Christ Jesus, our one and only priest.   

Come to our Assembly. Help us all do that, together.