Thoughts on the Synod

Friday, Oct. 22, 2021

I’m excited by the possibilities offered by the process we’re undergoing for the 2023 Synod of Bishops. We’re actually being asked for our opinion about how the Church should proceed. This is unprecedented; in the past the Vatican has only regulated and proscribed the laity, not engaged in dialogue with us.

Pope Francis has compared the synod to “walking on the same road, together,” encountering people and listening to them as Jesus did.

I’ve already heard negative comments about what we’re being asked to do. The Holy Father has a preemptive argument for objections: “Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: ‘It’s useless’ or ‘We’ve always done it this way’?”

It’s certainly true that it’s useless to expect changes if we don’t try. And I agree with the pope that to say “We’ve always done it this way” is poisonous. In my opinion, it also belies an ignorance of Church history. Just four quick examples: Today the Mass is said in the vernacular, but barely 60 years ago it was in Latin. Today we think of Rome as the seat of the Holy See, but for most of the 14th century the pope resided in Avignon. Today our priests are ordered to be celibate, but prior to the Second Lateran Council in 1139 they could be married. Today we go to an actual Church building to attend Mass, but if you read the New Testament you’ll find that the early Christians gathered in private homes, or rented rooms, or the Temple in Jerusalem, before it was destroyed.

 From these examples we can see that, when it comes to the Church, “We’ve always done it this way” is an argument that doesn’t hold water.

Are there things that the Church has always done? Yes. We have always followed Jesus Christ. But even some of our core beliefs didn’t take shape until after quite a bit of wrangling. Take our belief in Jesus as “consubstantial with the Father,” and then look at Apollinarism, Arianism and Docetism, to name just a few of the arguments about Christ’s nature that were hotly debated at the early Church councils.

But it’s important to note that the 2023 Synod of Bishops isn’t going to debate the faith we profess. Rather, we’re being asked to reflect on “which processes can help [the Church] to live communion, to achieve participation, to open herself to mission,” as the Preparatory Document for the synod states.

That document also asks us to reflect on how the Holy Spirit is calling us “to be, together, witnesses of God’s love” and to look at ways the Christian community can be “a credible subject and reliable partner in paths of social dialogue, healing, reconciliation, inclusion and participation, the reconstruction of democracy, the promotion of fraternity and social friendship.”

To have us Christians be considered credible and reliable by the rest of the world means, as far as I’m concerned, that we first have to stop squabbling among ourselves. How can we preach “love of neighbor” when we so obviously don’t have love for our brothers and sisters in Christ? How can we be considered credible and reliable partners in social dialogue and reconciliation when people and organizations that claim to be Catholic spew vitriol and divisive tactics rather than practice the reconciliation preached by Christ?

The synod process is asking us to listen to input from fallen-away Catholics and people of other faith traditions as well as those of no faith tradition. I’ve already heard the argument that this will mean we must abandon Church teachings. Not so. We’re being asked to do what Jesus did: to ask and to listen. In Mark 10:51, Jesus doesn’t assume that Bartimaeus wants to be healed. Rather, he asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”

This, I think, is the question that we as members of the Church are being directed by the synod process to ask in our communities. It may be that someone will ask for something we can’t give, but it also may be that we will be able to grant their request and in so doing have them join us in our journey toward the Kingdom.

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at marie@icatholic.org.  

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