22 August 2022
22 Aug 2022

Academic expressions of synodality in the dynamics of the Dehonian charism

The author was a university professor and explains the relationship between the Dehonian charism, academia and the synod.

by  Joseph Famerée, scj

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According to a widespread etymology (also taken up by the CTI), “synod” comes from the Greek sun (with) and hodos (way), hence the meaning “way with, together”. The very beautiful and rich rhetoric of “walking together” can of course be used in the practice of synodality, but this does not seem to be the correct etymology of the Greek word synod, equivalent to the Latin concilium (con-calare, to call with, to convene; ek-klesia). Synod comes, not from sun and hodos (rough spirit in Greek), but from sun and oudos or odos (soft spirit in Greek), which means the “threshold” (of a dwelling), the passage to be crossed if one wants to live together or to meet, in particular to exchange, debate, discuss. The word sunodos therefore designates all kinds of assemblies, meetings or colloquia, where people come together to listen to each other, share and decide (as at the assembly in Jerusalem in Acts 15). Synod therefore means that we cross the threshold of a place to stop, to meet and to take stock together. Being, living, speaking together takes precedence over doing together. I prefer to understand synod and synodality in this primary sense of assembly, exchange and consultation (like a council, moreover).

In this last perspective, what are the synodal “values” or “qualities”? While starting from a different etymology, I agree with some of the synodal “virtues” identified by Fr. Marcial Maçaneiro, “virtues” that are also Dehonian according to our Constitutions: communion and Sint unum (Cst 32, 63, 65, 66), solidarity (Cst 29, 38), fraternity (Cst 18, 28, 63, 65), allowing oneself to be questioned in community (Cst 61, 66), discerning God’s will in community (Cst 35, 72), dialogue and co-responsibility (Cst 55, 67).

These attitudes, especially the last three, which are more precise and concrete, seem to me to be particularly propitious and indispensable for practicing a true synodality in religious communities, but also in any sector of activity, such as the university.

Without being exclusively Dehonian, these attitudes (whose purpose of communion and fraternity must not be forgotten) are of course to be developed especially by a Dehonian in his field of apostolate.

At the university, a Dehonian teacher will therefore be particularly attentive, through his courses, seminars and direction of theses, to encourage in his students an attitude of (self-) questioning (to let oneself be questioned by people, facts…), an attitude of dialogue and co-responsibility in the student’s work and, more fundamentally, in the discernment of truth, an ability to get together and to consult in order to solve common problems… and to personally give an example of what he wants to encourage in his students.

A university teacher is also led to participate in numerous (collegial) meetings of consultation or deliberation provided for institutionally, whether at the level of a faculty or of the university as a whole: faculty council, teaching commissions, examination deliberations… A Dehonian, here too, will be particularly attentive to living out these “synodal values” which are dear to him or her, and to fostering them among his or her colleagues, either in personal relationships or by promoting new rules for a more synodal (collegial) functioning of these institutions.

A fortiori, if the Dehonian professor is a dean of faculty, for example, and thus exercises a governing role that allows him or her to influence more directly the synodal (collegial) functioning of the academic institution at all its levels.

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