The Navel-Gazing of Synodal “Listening”

The Church’s divine mission is to give humanity a contemplative gaze into the Most Holy Trinity, not to embrace the secular causes du jour or sterile programs of self-realization.

“That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)

It seems as though navel-gazing is quite the fashion these days—even in the Church, if Synodal “listening” is any indication. The problem with navel-gazing, a fortiori Synodal “listening,” is that it prefers solipsistic reverie to the bold injunctions of Christ Our Savior. Rather than considering ways for Holy Church to bring the fire of her divine teachings to a wheezing culture drawing its last breath, it chooses the exhausted psychobabble of the transgressive seventies. This world of ours, to say nothing of Catholics themselves, yearns for the truths of dogma, but what it receives from the likes of Synodal “listening” is vaping. Romano Guardini strikes the right tone,

In dogma, the fact of absolute truth, inflexible and eternal, entirely independent of a basis of practicality, we possess something which is inexpressibly great. When the soul becomes aware of it, it is overcome by a sensation as of having touched the mystic guarantee of universal sanity: it perceives dogma as the guardian of all existence, actually and really the rock upon which the universe rests. ‘In the beginning was the Word—the Logos.’

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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This is what a world in meltdown needs to hear: the bracing message for which we must climb to the “housetops.” Toothy bromides will not work. 

Michael Hanby (Communio, Winter 2021) puts his finger precisely on the menace of Synodality 2022:

There is considerable danger that the implementation of synodality will become the occasion for replacing what remains of the church’s Sacramental, organismic, and Marian self-understanding with bureaucratic and political understanding…. This would be the most tragic of ironies: promoting, in the name of anticlericalism, the most clericalist conception of the church imaginable—the Church of pure administration, though with its functions now distributed more democratically among various parties and agencies.

Pretending that a positive spirit will solve all ills is illusory. Time has come for the “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” clerics to make their exit. These men do not embrace the Faith; they are hopelessly dancing with shadows. How else to describe the ten “thematic nuclei” detailed in the Preparatory Document of the Synod on Synodality (got that?) written under Cardinal Hollerich’s direction. (Yes, this is the Cardinal Hollerich who recently declared that the Church must change its teachings on homosexuality, assuming, I suppose, that he has a better idea than God. In the words of His Eminence: “I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct.” Hmmm. Quite bold even for a member of the cadaverous Society of Jesus.)  

Ah yes, the “thematic nuclei” (Orwell’s Newspeak can’t hold a candle to this):

  • To whom does our particular Church need to listen?
  • What space is there for the voice of minorities, the discarded, and the excluded?
  • Do we identify prejudices and stereotypes that hinder our listening?
  • How do we listen to the social and cultural context in which we live?
  • How does the Church dialogue with and learn from other sectors of society, the world of politics, economics, culture, civil society?
  • What tools help us to read the dynamics of the culture in which we are immersed and their impact on our style of church?
  • How do we discover “new” ways of showing God’s love?

So encased is this agitprop in its own world that its breathtaking audacity can only be captured by the artistry of Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. I give you Alice’s fantasy:

If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?

When rational analysis reaches its tipping point, only the words of savvy fiction can embrace the folly. Carroll renders Synodality’s surreal nature perfectly. I suppose the writer of fiction’s pictures is worth more than a thousand words of a theologian. Aside from the embarrassment to thinking Catholics, what of the world’s verdict on such escapes from reality?

The more serious poetry of T.S Eliot is our recourse when tongues are tied before the spectacle of Synodality. His “Hollow Men” seizes the shallowness: “diseased by life without principle.” This is nothing less than The Triumph of the Therapeutic, a chilling consummation of Philip Rieff’s direst predictions. The Catholic Faith is not a gauzy affair of the heart, it is romance with the Cross. Neither are the gymnastics of clinical self-awareness but a conquering of the self. Synodality is the starburst of Modernism not the dust of Calvary.

Many wise men have raised the alarm about the rising tide of this nihilistic spirit. One of them is the gifted Thomist Gerald Vann, O.P.

The humanist world is a shallow world; a world of false and facile optimism, inasmuch as it forgets the fact of sin, or tries to ignore it. But you cannot ignore the underworld of life with impunity. Either you must go down into it, suffer it, understand it, and overcome it: or you can try to forget it for a time, and then, sooner or later, it will rise up against you and destroy you. And when the whole civilization tries thus to forget the sense of depth it may live very placidly on the surface for a while; it may make immense progress, but still only on the surface; and then its nemesis too will come upon it, and it will find itself driven back to the darkness of the cave.

The same Dominican seems to be speaking to blinkered clerics today when he writes in Eve and the Gryphon:

The humanist world is roofed in low by its self-imposed limitations, and stifles men who perhaps without knowing it long for a sight of the infinite skies; And its programs of social reform are apt to end in arrogance, because it lacks the dimension of worship, and to end in a progressive mechanizing and regimenting of human nature itself because it fails to realize that the endless upward striving of humanity is not in the last resort toward material ends, however beneficent, but towards the supernatural destiny of the sons of God.

The Synodal “listening sessions” can easily be dismissed as another parlor game, most certainly passé by tomorrow. But that would be naïve. It is far darker. These sessions are a capitulation to the zeitgeist on a universal scale. It is the tip of the iceberg, concealing beneath a massive project of deconstruction. While many Catholics may not appreciate its true danger, it still seeps into their souls like a colorless, odorless gas that kills.  

The Church’s divine mission is to give humanity a contemplative gaze into the Most Holy Trinity, not to embrace the secular causes du jour or sterile programs of self-realization. Tragically, these have already seeped into the bloodstream of most Catholics who know nothing of the Nicene Creed but everything about inclusivity; Catholics who have been weaned on the burlesque titillations of flattened liturgies and homilies of anemic bonhomie rather than on the majestic Masses which bring men’s hearts to the Heart of God.  

Catholics deserve more of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and less “thematic nuclei.” Listen to him in 1146, when he preached the sermon at Vézelay, launching the Second Crusade:

Fly then to arms! Let a holy ire animate you in the fight…. Could God have not sent twelve legions of angels or breathed one word and all his enemies would crumble away into dust? But God has considered the sons of men, to open for them the road to His mercy. His goodness has caused to dawn for you a day of safety by calling you to avenge His glory in His name.

Christian warriors, He who gave His life for you, today demands yours in return. These are combats worthy of you, combats in which it is glorious to conquer and advantageous to die.  

Illustrious knights, generous defenders of the Cross, remember the example of your fathers, whose names are inscribed in heaven. 

Abandon then the things that perish, in order to gather unfading palms, and conquer a Kingdom that has no end.

To those impassioned words, thousands of knights knelt and famously shouted, over and over, Deus Vult! (God wills it!).

Now, it is our time to climb “to the housetops” and begin to shout. Too much time has passed; too much damage suffered.  

Indeed, Deus Vult! Deus Vult!

[Photo Credit: website]


  • Fr. John A. Perricone

    Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona University in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. He can be reached at

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