Rearranging the Synod Table Chairs

The Synod was a series of fixations on matters of utter inconsequence, rather like the deck hands busily arranging chairs on the Titanic before its final plunge into the sea.

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There was a time, not so very long ago, when the raging controversy among Catholics was about how best to receive Holy Communion. Would greater reverence be shown when receiving Our Lord on the tongue, which had been the custom for centuries, or in the hand, which not a few innovators were proposing as somehow more fitting? How quaint it all now seems up against a backdrop of widening apostasy, in which an alarming number of Catholics no longer even believe in the Eucharist. What difference can it possibly make how you receive Jesus if there is so little certainty that it is Jesus whom you receive?

Such a long way we have come from the halcyon days of Hilaire Belloc, who, when asked if he actually believed that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ, replied that he’d believe they’d been changed into an elephant if the Church had told him so. 

Those days are far gone, leaving us with a situation unimaginably worse than anything we have faced before. Indeed, not since the Arian crisis of the fourth century when the divinity of Christ came under heavy fire, have the times been so out of joint. It is not only belief in the Eucharist that has fallen away, every faith item on the shelf looks less and less secure as well, including the very structures of reality itself. Perhaps the prophets of modernity were right, after all, when they assured us that in the coming age everything solid would melt into thin air. 

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“Something came along with a sponge,” said Nietzsche, “and wiped away the horizon.” Leaving what exactly? A looming absence where, until what seems only the day before yesterday, was Real Presence testified to by almost everyone. And now we move in darkness, abandoned by those whose only mandate was to keep the lights on.

This is not the darkness felt by St. Therese in the last weeks of her passion, clinging by a fingernail to a faith for which she could find no foothold, but it is darkness all the same. For the Little Flower, dying of consumption at age twenty-four, only the sheer void seething beneath her seemed real enough, causing her to cry out, “I am assailed by the worst temptations of atheism.”

And yet, for all that the dark night of faith hung about her, she nevertheless held fast, refusing to give up on God. Even when cruelly denied the consolation of Holy Viaticum at the end—her condition having been adjudged too serious to allow it!—her response, like the death that followed, was triumphant. “Tout est grace,” she declared. “Everything is grace.” Yes, even the denial itself had become a graced moment, wholly embraced while awaiting the Christ whom she would very soon see on the other side.

But who believes like that these days? Do the architects of the Synod—for many of whom not a single one of their endless talking points has touched upon the Eucharist at all. The centrality of Christ’s presence on the altar seems, if not an embarrassment, certainly beside the point. Leaving only a series of synodal fixations on matters of utter inconsequence, rather like the deck hands busily arranging chairs on the Titanic before its final plunge into the sea.

Think of all those matching tables and chairs so carefully arranged to ensure a level playing field for every marginalized member of the Church. In which there must be no hint whatsoever of hierarchy, of episcopal distinction among the many talking heads. Whether curial cardinal or college coed, it makes no difference; no one opinion is better than any other. Just imagine: 400 plus participants, each his or her own priest, prophet, and pope. 

Meanwhile, the abyss separating the noise going on inside, where issues of empowerment early on took center stage, from an outside world grown ever more desperate and bereft owing to the loss of any real sense of divine presence anywhere, grows wider every day. The world having lost the poetry of the transcendent, everyone is left muttering prose. The world is fast losing its story, which is His-Story, told by the Artist himself, Christ the Savior God. 

The only good news about the Synod, let’s all agree, is that it’s over. At least the current phase, that is; future installments are even now being planned. But the awful disconnect remains. As Sandro Magister, a shrewd observer of all that’s been happening, reminds us in a recent headline from the front, The Synod Is Talking To Itself. But Meanwhile in Italy, Two Out of Three Young People No Longer Believe in God.”  The only good news about the Synod, let’s all agree, is that it’s over. At least the current phase, that is; future installments are even now being planned.Tweet This

Will the Synod leaders ever get around to asking themselves about that? There can’t be much point in shining a light on the LGBTQ+ lobby, whose swelling numbers demanding equity and inclusion have reached into the very heart of the Vatican itself, if there’s no light to begin with. If God is dead, or at least missing in action, then talk about light isn’t going to get us anywhere. Instead, we’ll all need to get used to living in the dark because it’s all around us.

There is, declares Magister, “A gaping divide between the issues debated around the thirty-five tables of the Synod, and what is happening outside the Vatican walls, in real life.” And quoting a letter addressed to the bishops back in March of 2009 by then Pope Benedict XVI, we get a piercing glimpse into what is really going on in the world: “The real problem at this moment of our history,” he writes, “is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.”

If that isn’t a wake-up call for our leaders, so many of whom have not only dropped the ball, but have decided to throw it the wrong way, in a direction never intended by Christ, then I don’t know what will succeed in snapping them back into reality. In the meantime,“the overriding priority,” concludes Benedict, “is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses ‘to the end’ (cf. Jn 13:1)—in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.”

If our leaders will not take the lead on this, that leaves the rest of us to pick up the ball. Let’s hope enough of us, listening to God, will know which way to go.

[Image Credit: Vatican Media]


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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