When Jesus rose from the dead, and later ascended to a greater place beyond this world, He gave us an Easter challenge to also rise above the things of earth. While great leaders, from President Zelensky to Pope Francis, guide us to rise above overwhelming issues of international proportion, we are also summoned to rise above our own personal destructive sins, behaviors, and addictions. The Catholic Church is similarly called to rise from what is dead within us and accompany the Lord, walking renewed and united into a hope-filled future.
From political or ideological entrenchment that creates daily squabbles and national news to personal differences that mar relationships at work, school, and home, we are beckoned to rise above them and walk with one another. Though I tend to lean politically conservative and ecclesiologically progressive, I mostly walk the middle of the road with a realization that I can easily get hit from either side. Imitating people of good will, I seek to listen to those coming from other perspectives. As a Christian, I seek to rise above my own inclinations and viewpoints. As a church official, I seek to accompany others along their journey and point them in a direction by which they can walk in faith.
The process of Synodality invites Catholics, including bishops, to discuss, debate, and ultimately discern, differing views of church priorities and determine in what direction we ought to proceed. Some Catholics are embarrassed when church leaders disagree publicly; yet the conflicting voices can help us sense the presence of the Holy Spirit and discover the will of God. It was that way at Pentecost with the Apostles, who were the first bishops. The Holy Spirit, however, is not limited to bishops; the Spirit has no limitations. The key to Synodality, of course, is listening—to one another and, especially, to God. Unfortunately, a small minority of bishops and priests are entrenched in ideological views and don’t listen well. But if we are Christian, we will rise above our own narrow thinking to embrace the Spirit.
Too often, a church leader will assess and categorize people according to their faults or hang-ups, then instruct them on what they must do to be people of faith according to that official’s perspective or, worse, tell them that they don’t belong in the church. If a person says, “Father, I am an atheist…I don’t believe in God,” the priest may respond in a way that shuts down further grace by saying something like, “You’re going to hell.” Or he could be more pastoral by saying, “Tell me about this god you don’t believe in.” When the person describes a vindictive, arrogant, vengeful, or cruel deity, the official might initiate conversation by saying, “I don’t believe in that god either. I must be an atheist, too.” This dialogue invites us to rise above human entrenchment and generate accompaniment. If the person says, “Father, I am a socially conscious Catholic that voted for President Biden,” and the priest again responds, “You’re going to hell,” accompaniment is not likely to follow. An opportunity to walk with that person and with God gets missed.
Our Easter challenge this year is connected with the church’s Synod process and, as always, with Jesus’ example of touching and healing those that are down. He enjoined them to rise and walk. Let’s rise with Christ—rise above ideological entrenchment, condescending judgments, and human attempts to limit the Holy Spirit—so that we can better accompany those that seek the Lord.