While many Catholics find it embarrassing for Catholic politicians to not uphold Catholic teachings in the public forum, it is more embarrassing to see some American bishops go ballistic over who is unworthy to receive communion and wield their authority to condemn them. Yet, in the midst of the quarrel, it is refreshing to witness Pope Francis shape a church that imitates Christ’s love and searches for ways to get us all on the Lord’s road to glory. In his book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Francis suggests that the key to unity is discernment and synodal thinking.
Whether dealing with marriage and family life, environmental issues that impact the poor, or the dignity of every human life from womb to tomb, he believes we make wiser, holier, and healthier decisions when we listen to one another’s goodness and welcome the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Though it cannot be simplified as easily as that, he is clear that many church-types hold on to vices such as moralism, legalism, clericalism, pharisaism, and other elite ideologies which understand nothing of the joy of knowing yourself to be part of God’s people. This is a problem within Catholicism. Jesus rejected the mindset of the religious elites of His time because they had taken ownership of law and tradition. Seeking to possess the goods of religion was a means for putting themselves above those they inspected and judged. Francis reminds us that, contrary to hierarchical directives, this is not the role of religion. Who are we to judge? If religion weaponizes the divine grace it is given, it abuses its purpose.
The pontiff reminds us that Jesus reclaimed law and tradition, reuniting them with love and creation. In the synodal method, we identify and contemplate matters of importance, we discern or choose a path by listening to God’s Spirit, and we propose responses that address the matters realizing that the whole is greater than its parts, that realities are more important than ideas, that unity will overcome conflict, and that in God’s time our actions will take us where He directs. Since the next world Synod of Bishops will be on the topic of Synodality we will all learn more about it. The word essentially means to walk together or journey in sync. As we do, we will grapple with crucial issues like marriage and family life. We can hold an ideal, e.g., that a mother and father in every home is exemplary but also face realities of spousal abuse, child neglect, same sex unions, non-traditional systems, and many situations that are not ideal. Like with the Amazonia Synod of 2019 where people sought preconceived ideas, e.g., ordaining married men as priests, they departed with more serious concerns, i.e., a realization that the church has lost much of its missionary spirit and, with God’s help, we should work to regain it (evangelization is central while the marital status of priests is peripheral).
Each of us has desires for what the church ought to be and some of us dismiss or condemn those who don’t share our vision. Synodality urges us to bring our hopes and desires to the Lord and listen with the ear of our heart to the Holy Spirit. Over time, and for the greater good of all, the will of God gets revealed. It is not the job of the Catholic Church in the United States to topple or excommunicate any in our number who have been elected to government positions but, with them and as a universal community of faith, to discern the will of God for the good of all citizens of our nation and all humanity.