THERE has been much discussion and commentary regarding feedback from our national synod. The synod is a process initiated by Pope Francis to promote dialogue with all the members of the universal Church. It’s a most welcomed initiative, because it allows all the members of the Church to express their thoughts on being a member of Christ’s family in 2022.
At its best, the Church is always local. The experience we have on the ground in our local communities is far more relevant to the vast majority of Catholics than what happens in the lofty hallways of the Vatican. For too long there has been an enormous disconnection regarding dictates from on high that simply don’t seem real or necessary in the complex culture of contemporary life.
It saddens me that Pope Francis, an elderly and exhausted pontiff, had to initiate this process. Surely leadership at local level must have been aware that our model of Church is at best dying or perhaps even dead. Our pews have emptied. Our young people have disappeared from public worship and many of the members of the Church are hanging on by their fingertips. In truth, this synodal process should have happened 40 years ago. I fear that this process is much too late.
However, I wholeheartedly welcome and fully support the publication of this pragmatic and honest reflection. Honesty and realism are exactly the places where God’s spirit thrives; a spirit which many long to rejuvenate and energise our Church that is fatigued, elderly and crying out for renewal. A major theme expressed by members of the Church is one of inclusivity. In the Gospel, Jesus was synonymous with those who found themselves on the margins.
Synodality is about creating a platform that respects and allows a voice to all the members of the Church, all the baptised, not just the ordained. It’s about listening to all voices and allowing God’s spirit to inspire us. Since Vatican II (1962-1965), despite the documents of that council being overwhelmingly voted through by the highest teaching authority in the Church, efforts to neutralise and even eradicate that process has done enormous damage to how we witness the Good News to our contemporary culture.
Becoming a synodal Church means we’re all in this together and no group can dictate to God’s spirit what he or she can or cannot do. At best, our Church is local and every community has enormous strengths and gifts that creates great opportunity of how we can be a living Church in 2022. One thing is certain: the future is never ours to tell, but we have a responsibility to safeguard the rich tradition we belong to, regarding our faith story. In ministry, it is a privilege to accompany and be present in parishioners’ lives, lives that live in the grey zone, not in the confines of a black-and-white elite club.
I sincerely pray that the next step in this synodal process will truly embrace the concerns of its members. Hope is a great gift and God’s spirit is alive and active in the midst of our day-to-day lives. Every generation is a new continent for Christ; ours is a mission fuelled by the presence of the risen Christ. In him, we place our hope and trust, one step at a time.
***It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the Church’s mission.
That is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
A step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are the workers, not the master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are the prophets of a future not of our own. Amen.***