Synod is called to understand authority, recognize truth, preacher says

ROME (CNS) -- Competing notions of authority and giving certain Christian truths preeminence over others can not only derail the assembly of the Synod of Bishops but, worse, cripple the church's ability to share Christ with the world, Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe told synod members.

Speaking about authority "is a crucial element for understanding what a synod is, what the church is. I think so much misunderstanding about the nature of the synod, the nature of the life of the church comes from too narrow, political, executive understanding of authority," Father Radcliffe said Oct. 3.

"Part of the adventure of the synod will be seeing how we walk with a much richer, diverse understanding of authority," he told the 364 members of the synod on the last day of their three-day retreat at Sacrofano, north of Rome, before the synod assembly was to open Oct. 4.

The church speaks with authority, he said, when it shares beauty, goodness and truth.

Understanding authority in that way, he said, it is clear "there need be no competition, as if the laity can only have more authority if the bishops have less, or if so-called conservatives compete for authority with progressives."

Even in a world seemingly filled with "fake news, wild assertions on the internet (and) mad conspiracy theories," Father Radcliffe said, buried in every person is "an ineradicable instinct for the truth, and when it is spoken, it has some last vestiges of authority."

The working document for the synod assembly "is unafraid to be truthful about the challenges we must address," he told the synod's voting members, who include lay men and women for the first time. The document "speaks openly about the hopes and sorrows, the anger and the joy of the people of God" and asks the members to do the same.

"How can we draw people to the One who is the truth if we are not truthful about ourselves?" Father Radcliffe asked.

In seeking and sharing the truth, he said, "disciplined scholarship" is necessary so that individuals overcome the "temptation to use the Word of God and the teachings of the church for our own purposes," which, in effect, is to claim, "God must be right because he agrees with me!"

The prayer and listening the synod calls for are essential, he said, because "if what another says is indeed true, it cannot threaten the truth that I treasure. I must open my heart and mind to the spaciousness of the divine truth. If I believe that what the other says is not true, I must of course say so, with due humility."

"If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit of truth, we shall doubtless argue" during the synod, he said. "It will sometimes be painful. There will be truths we would rather not face. But we shall be led a little deeper into the mystery of divine love and we shall know such joy that people will be envious of us for being here, and will long to attend the next session of the synod!"