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Fraternal Communion as Prototype for Synodality

An accurate assessment of our current society gives us a glimpse of a world that is saturated with bad news. There is appalling poverty, political instability, and social disorientation. In short, a profound crisis in the ethical norms of human behaviour. In the face of these different humanitarian crises, we ask ourselves sharply: how can fraternal community be the foundation and paradigm of any synodal process? In two parts, this contribution concentrates on demonstrating the importance of human communion in the synodal process. The first part focuses on showing that Christ is the centre and reformer of any synodal journey. The second examines some contemporary concerns in fraternal communion in synodal dynamics.

1. Jesus, the centre and reformer of fraternal community as prototype for synodality

Fraternity is an essential dimension of human, who are relational beings. From their origin, people are called to live in communion with God and others. This communion is willed by God their Creator. In creating people, God placed in their hearts the dream of fraternity to live and flourish in living together. Since fraternity is one of the objectives of the synodal vision, it is desirable to make it strong and permanent. Christian life, of its very essence, is relational, and the foundational for communities. This is why, in calling his disciples, at the same time Jesus formed a community around himself. He called them personally to live in community with him and the other disciples, to share his life and his destiny (cf. Mk 3:13-15) and so to be a sign of the life and communion he inaugurated. Over time, under the action of the Spirit, multiple forms of community have appeared. Through this variety of forms, life in community has always appeared like a radicalization of the fraternal spirit that unites all Christians, and of the love which characterizes the disciples of Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:35.)

Unfortunately, throughout history “the interior means” which favour fraternal communion, including fraternal charity or “the New Commandment” of Jesus defined by St John “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34), have been abandoned. As Jean-Claude Guy said, fluctuations in history have made the primordial meaning of fraternal life in community fade in certain eras, and people have been tempted to conceive of fraternal life as groups characterized by special tasks, uniquely justified by charitable or pastoral services which they can deliver. We could cautiously assert that certain “classical” communities have remained attached to what John Paul II calls “the exterior means of communion” which are really not very useful, but which rather become soul-less facades, masks of communion more than expressions and ways for communion to grow. From this, other people affirm that community life as it is lived according to the “classical” models of life is becoming less and less attractive for the new generations. In fact, they consider traditional community life to be spaces where “spontaneity, tenderness and friendship are suffocated.”

On the other hand, they are attracted to the new communities which are free from the structural complexity which weighs heavily on the large communities, and they are oriented towards communal life which announces a new type of fraternal society. Such phenomena are an invitation to revisit structures which, with the passing of time, have become weighty and anachronistic. This is the type of common life which Tillard denounced when he said: “Community has become a juridical entity before being an expression of a communion of charity. Are we going to be able to reverse the current order and put the life of fraternal communion above juridical community? To break the rigid frameworks to allow fraternity to truly live?”

Rinzo Cozza adds that if for common life, living together according to the same norms, or “cohabitation” is the most important point, then what is important for fraternal life, i.e. the life of brothers and sisters, is firstly the quality of relations, mutual help and support, the valuing and the active role of each person and the convergence of ambitions. When we live in a fraternal spirit, members of the community feel humanized and mature in their freedoms of expression and action, promoted with their qualities, initiatives and responsibilities. Consequently each person feels at home, has a strong sense of belonging, because, to borrow from Georges Bernanos, “we do not live where we reside, but where we are loved.” But with Bruno Secondin, we need to say that “this type of fraternal living requires that we must be capable of assuming our proper responsibilities to the end, offering ourselves for a project which exceeds the purely individual limits, and convinced that true maturity consists in accepting the process of mutual enrichment. In the recent past, we were less sensitive to that, and sometimes preferred ascetical values to those of fraternity… But to many people today it appears to be a priority need.” In short, fraternal life appeals to deeper and more pronounced attitudes of charity, in the sense that it can be considered a “Church” within the Church, as the Second Vatican Council called the Christian family. This fraternity is a help and support for its members so that each one can realise his or her proper vocation. That is why it is also important that all members appreciate their own identity according to their context – to achieve the overall objective of walking together expressed by the concept of synodality. This vision becomes our model as we aim to construct a fraternal and universal community. This raises certain contemporary concerns regarding fraternal community as a condition for a good synodal journey.

2. Contemporary concerns regarding fraternal communion as a condition for a good synodal journey

Our present society should put the fraternity called for by Christ before everything else to solve the crisis of living together. We consider fraternity to be one of the primordial principles which  will return strength to human relations. This means that even if every being has its own specific identity, all people are fundamentally sharing the same adventure. Fraternity has something to offer to the synodal journey. It can be an instrument of reconciliation in all freedom, linking solidarity with responsibility. The type fraternity we are advocating would be the bulwark against the evolution of a society of individuals turned in on themselves, in which solitude, indifference, selfishness, intolerance, nationalism and exclusion in all its forms build up, because the humanism which we are looking for wants to bring back the sense of the neighbour and of the other.

Human fraternity therefore obliges us to want and to look for the good of the next person. This good can only be achieved in the total gift of oneself for the next person. That’s why in this time of globalization, it is becoming more urgent to stir human consciences to solidarity and fraternity to promote the equality of all people. Pope Paul VI observed that combating poverty is not enough. We need to sensitize people to a social love which makes us choose the common good in particular. This way fraternal community will pass from fraternity to solidarity.

With the aim of realising the journey together whose goal is to construct a more human society in which the idea of fraternal community is appreciated and lived with dignity and without losing sight of recognizing the other in his or her difference. With this in mind the Second Vatican Council insisted on respecting people in these terms: “May each consider his neighbour, without a single exception, as another self.” (G+S 27). In fact, the human person flourishes in recognizing the existence of the other, because the face of the neighbour reflects the same existential values which fill his own person. The synodal journey should show us even more how the relations with the Father requires and encourages a communion which heals, promotes and reinforces human connections.

In short, our preoccupation has been to demonstrate how fraternal communion, which Christ proposes to us, is the foundation for every synodal process today. The present concern is to campaign for and to safeguard the dignity of the human person as we build a just and fraternal society.