Synodality and Oblates in the USA, Part One

The province website Mission-Unity-Dialogue,, has been updated to help with this. At the bottom of the home page, two pyramids have been constructed to reflect a vital change in our structure and attitude, to better promote mission. On the left is the Latin rite Roman Catholic Church as it has existed from the Council of Trent, 1563, to the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. At the top of the pyramid is the pope, alone, and at the bottom, the laity. On the right is our Church as it now exists, with the changes of the Second Vatican Council, the laity on top, and the pope with the bishops on the bottom. The schema of these two pyramids can easily be printed in Sunday bulletins, and other resources both for vowed Oblates, and lay Oblate discussion.

St. Eugene de Mazenod

Pope Francis is asking every parish, retreat center, house of formation, and Catholic center to discuss synodality. In the seven mandated questions, the fourth asks “How connected do you feel to the core mission of the Church–making disciples for Jesus?” St. Eugene de Mazenod must be agreeing with this on every Catholic being a missionary.

As the pope asks us to engage in “walking together,” the original meaning of the Greek word “synodality,” he is attacking clericalism, and promoting the laity to partnership with the clergy. Please note that the Roman Catholic Church includes 23 Eastern Rite Churches which are not as affected by clericalism as is the Latin Rite, to which approximately 98% of Roman Catholics belong. If your Sunday Mass includes only a modern language, and no Greek, Syriac or any of the Biblical languages, you are Latin rite. More in a future article about the stronger synodality and lesser clericalism in the Eastern Churches.

In this first article, I invite every Oblate in the USA to send me what they have experienced in their ecclesial situation about synodality. I have already heard a very interesting insight from our missiologist in Brownsville, Texas, Paul Hughes, concerning synodality there, and will share it in a future article. I hope to hear also from Oblate School of Theology what the faculty there is teaching about synodality.

Fr. Robert Graham, SJ
Fr. Robert Graham, SJ

One of the predecessors of synodality was Catholic Action, which began in the late 1800’s in Europe, led by Catholic laity predominantly, to bring Catholic teaching into the political and economic spheres. It has been whimsically defined as “The interference of the laity in the inactivity of the clergy.” Another version of this imbalance was described by Father Robert Graham, S.J., back in 1961: “the witty and far from inaccurate description of Catholic Action as ‘the interference of the clergy in the apostolic mission of the laity.’ The delicate balance between lay responsibility and episcopal control is yet to be created.” (“The Laity, the Council and the New Apostolate,” America, May 6, 1961).

As our Oblate Family expands with more laity, we are called to promote lay leadership, lessening our clericalism. The promotion of the role of Oblate Coadjutor Brothers has alerted us to forms of clericalism which grew within the Oblates since our founding.

Most of us find it difficult to attend more meetings. Yet the meetings at the local level, concerning synodality are crucial for our mission. May St. Eugene help us to devote some time and energy to developing the statements on synodality which every group is supposed to send to their bishops. It would help greatly to be able to gather these local efforts and place them on our Mission-Unity-Dialogue website.

The process of synodality includes another Synod on Synodality this October, and a third one in October 2023. Let us devote some quality time and effort to this initiative from Vatican II and especially Pope Francis to better our mission.