By Patrick Schmadeke
Evangelization and synodality go well together and it is not because the terminology is somewhat obscure.
Evangelization is characterized by the joy born of faith as we integrate faith into everyday life. This can mean living life according to thoughtful moral standards, but it also looks like conversations about faith in our everyday relationships. This is not to be pushy, but to bring Jesus into our lives.
Evangelization is also characterized by encounter. This is to “meet people where they are at.” This is not to superimpose one’s own faith onto someone else. Rather, it begins with the recognition that everyone is on their own faith journey and that the path of faith and spirituality that God is calling them to is particular and likely quite different from our own.
Finally, evangelization is characterized by accompaniment. We must not only encounter people where they are, but as they are. We must also walk with them along the long, winding road of faith.
The walking is a presence, a shared love and mutuality, where, as Pope Francis has indicated, we remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.
Synodality is characterized by listening in order to understand. This isn’t debating, arguing or listening in order to respond — we all probably know what those conversations feel like. It is listening to understand, not merely on a surface level, but on a level of deep, personal, holy engagement. We are each made in the image and likeness of God. This means that each of us is an inexhaustible mystery. We can be endlessly curious towards and about each other because there is an endless complexity to each of us. Finding the words to express curiosity may not always be easy, but the capacity is there to further unpack and listen to a person’s experience.
Synodality is also characterized by orienting the structures of the Church toward mission, which is evangelization. Our structures can never be for our own self-preservation or keeping things the way that they are for its own sake. The Church does not exist to preserve the Church. The Church exists to spread the good news of Jesus. This is a dynamic, unfolding reality, and we cannot predict where the Holy Spirit may lead us.
Finally, synodality is marked by a constant discerning of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We must insist on this, daily. Discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit is just as likely to disrupt and unsettle us, as it is to confirm and heal. Transformation doesn’t happen without discomfort. We must lean into the calling of the Holy Spirit, and this leaning has no definitive conclusion. It has a direction, a trajectory, a path. The Holy Spirit always calls us to more, and we, like Abraham before us, must respond resolutely: “ready” (Genesis 22:1).
Evangelization and synodality are realities in the Church. They are realities that emerge often incrementally but they can also emerge progressively. Evangelization and synodality enrich and build on one another — one without the other leaves us with something less than what we might otherwise have.
Evangelization without synodality lacks concern for the structures of the Church. The Church is the people of God, and we inhabit social and hierarchical structures. We must take care to examine where those structures came from, wonder with care about how they serve the Gospel, and whether they are in need of transformation.
Synodality without evangelization means we are just another social club. Many social clubs, even businesses, would do well to learn from the practice of synodality. Synodality is ordered by our communion with God and experienced as members of the family of God and as participants in creation. It is ordered by our collective involvement and sense of co-responsibility for the Church. It is also ordered by our mission of evangelization. We do not come to the Eucharist to stay in the Church. We must be ever outward facing.
These are brief reflections on the relationship between evangelization and synodality. There is more to be discovered. Evangelization and synodality may be expressed uniquely in each of us, as we each have a particular contribution to offer as a gift to the Church, to the world.
(Patrick Schmadeke is Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Davenport.)