BY MAUREEN O’CONNELL, PH.D. | September 8, 2023
Discerning Deacons is a project that engages Catholics in the active discernment of our Church about women and the diaconate. Discerning Deacons is deeply engaged in the global synod process, helping to animate over 350 sessions that reached 9,000 people in the listening phase. Below find a Question and Answer about the synod.
1. Tell us more about the synod. Why is the synod so important to Discerning Deacons?
The Synod on Synodality is an invitation for members of the Church to actively participate in discerning the future direction of our Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Synod invites us to come together and listen, first to what the Holy Spirit reveals to us in our own lived experience and then to what the Spirit is revealing in and through others. In this way, all voices are welcome. We are so thrilled that those conversations will be shaped by this historic moment, when the Church has reached a global consensus on the need to discern the role of women in the diaconate. We see the synod as a powerful avenue to promote dialogue, prayer, and communal discernment around the question of how we recognize and celebrate the role of women in today’s Church.
2. What do you want everyday Catholics to know about the synod?
This Synod is a pivotal opportunity that allows us to reimagine and reshape our Church, guided by the values of inclusivity, unity, and love. For the first time, men and women, clergy and lay, will be able to come together and formally consider how to rethink women’s participation in every aspect of Church life.
The Synod is also not just an event for church leaders; it’s an inclusive and participatory process that involves all members of the Church. Nor is it only an event happening in Rome; it’s intended to become a way we function as Church at the local level. Every voice is welcomed in the discernment. In the synod, we are encouraged to foster respectful dialogue, engage in active listening, and recognize the diverse perspectives and wisdom of the entire community. It’s about affirming that through our voices each one of us can have a valuable role in shaping the future of the Church. So, we invite all Catholics to be engaged, open, and prayerful during this synodal journey.
3. What is the connection between synodal listening and the work of Discerning Deacons?
Discerning Deacons seeks to build a listening, participatory, and synodal Church that embraces women’s contributions in every aspect of Church life. We create and encourage respectful spaces where members of the Church can encounter, listen, dialogue, and discern, fostering a communal discernment process to understand the calling that women receive from their communities to serve as deacons. The connection between synodal listening and our work is profound, as the Synod perfectly aligns with our mission of bringing prayer, relationship building, and communal discernment to the forefront of this conversation around women and the diaconate. This process amplifies our efforts to create these inclusive and transformative spaces where the dialogue on women and the diaconate can thrive. We’re actively working with parishes, schools, religious orders, and other organizations to foster this important discussion for the whole Church.
4. Tell us more about St. Phoebe. How is she important to both Discerning Deacons and the synod?
St. Phoebe, a deacon and leader in the early Church, holds a special place for both Discerning Deacons and the Synod. She reminds us that the path for women to the diaconate has existed in the history of the early Church. St. Paul mentioned her in his letter to the Romans, commending her to the Church in Rome as a deacon of the Church at Cenchreae and urging them to “receive her in the Lord.” Her example provides a historical and biblical basis for the restoration of women to the diaconate, inspiring us to celebrate the voices and gifts of women leaders in our communities on St. Phoebe Day. St. Phoebe’s legacy calls us to imagine a renewed diaconate that embraces both men and women, fostering a Church that journeys together in serving the Gospel. Today, we are striving to live out the call of St. Phoebe, and celebrate the ministry and service of women in the Church.
Maureen H. O’Connell is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics in the Department of Religion and Theology at La Salle University. She recently published Undoing the Knots: Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness with Beacon Press.
Maureen H. O’Connell es profesora asociada de ética cristiana en el departamento de religión y teología de la Universidad La Salle. Recientemente publicó Undoing the Knots: Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness con Beacon Press.