The USCCB Synodal Synthesis: Testimony to a Counterfeit Christianity

The recently-released and synodal-inspired "National Synthesis" by the USCCB has nothing to do with the Catholic Faith as traditionally received, understood, professed, and practiced.

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To little fanfare, the USCCB released its latest contribution to the interminable Synodal process in the form of a document called The National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America for the Interim Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod (the “Synthesis”). As its title suggests, the document is a flavorless and textureless work of committee-craft, heavy with the awkward formulations beloved by ecclesial bureaucrats. Although utterly bereft of literary and devotional merit, the Synthesis is worth surveying insofar as it illustrates the extent to which a counterfeit Christianity has displaced the authentic apostolic faith within the ambit of mainstream American Catholicism. 

By way of overview, the Synthesis articulates “two basic hopes for the Church”: first, to be a “Safe Harbor of certainty and openness,” since the Church “is at its best when it’s warm, welcoming, and focuses on community building and doing more for other people”; second, to cultivate the “prophetic mystery at the heart of our Fiery Communion,” which entails creatively reconciling the concerns of “marginalized people” with traditional doctrine and practice.

The document briskly develops these major themes, hitting the expected notes: involving lay people (especially women and other “marginalized groups”) in evangelization and mission; improving clarity and consistency of communication; overcoming “polarization and conflict” around the Church’s “social magisterium”; assuaging the pain of those who have “experienced systematic rejection”; encouraging “adaptability and innovation in how the Church evangelizes, welcomes, and reaches out to people”; addressing structural sins like racism; prioritizing “encounter and reflection”; and fostering “mutual understanding” among the bishops.

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The Synthesis concludes by asserting the “desire and fortitude of the People of God to engage in the work of synodality” (an incredible notion), declaring the “messiness” and “imperfection” of the Church (at least as an “institution”), and finally hymning the “inclusivity of love.”  

Obviously, none of this has anything to do with the Catholic Faith as traditionally received, understood, professed, and practiced.    

The Synthesis barely glances at Sacred Scripture and altogether ignores the Fathers and Doctors. It does not forcefully propose the end of man: to know, love, and serve the Holy Trinity unto eternal glory. It hardly evinces an awareness of sin and its terrible consequences (chiefly, death and damnation). Nor, correspondingly, does it show much interest in the remedy for sin: sanctifying grace merited by the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ and obtained in the wonderful sacraments. Virtually absent is the vision of the Church as spotless bride, mystic body, pillar and ground of truth, guardian of humanity against the wiles of the principalities and powers, treasury of heavenly blessing, very plenitude of the incarnate Logos. Moreover, there is no appreciation of man’s pilgrim state, assailed by concupiscence and temptation; hence, there is no discussion of discipline, renunciation, and hatred of the world.  The Synthesis barely glances at Sacred Scripture and altogether ignores the Fathers and Doctors. It does not forcefully propose the end of man: to know, love, and serve the Holy Trinity unto eternal glory.Tweet This

In short, based on the Synthesis, an ignorant person would scarcely guess the fundamental tenets of the Catholic religion; probably, he would be rather startled to discover its supernatural character and heavenly orientation.  

Little surprise. The document reflects the prevailing tenor of contemporary Catholicism in the United States: effete, mundane, egalitarian, therapeutic, democratical, anthropocentric. The Church, here and now, has been secularized: it has accommodated itself to the present evil eon, from which the Lord Jesus rescued us at terrible cost to Himself.  

Therefore, the Church—better, a commanding portion thereof—embraces and operates within a paradigm borrowed from this age, a paradigm substantially bereft of a vertical element, with man placed at the center of all contemplation as an emoting, rather than reasoning, subject. Thus, the promotion of a vague pseudo-spirituality “inspired” (let the reader understand) by a fraudulent portrait of Christ as a master of compassion, inclusion, and togetherness.    

There is no legitimate reason why the bishops—the successors of the apostles—should traffic in lukewarm bromides when they hold in their hands the deposit of divine truth. Our Faith is quite simple, actually. The teachings of Christ and His apostles, ably framed and constantly expounded by the immemorial magisterium, are pellucid.  There is no legitimate reason why the bishops—the successors of the apostles—should traffic in lukewarm bromides when they hold in their hands the deposit of divine truth.Tweet This

We are born into sin, subject to decay and judgment. We are saved by the grace of God through faith and the sacrament of faith: pardoned, reconciled, given a share in eternal life. We are summoned to crucify the flesh through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, lest we sully or even forfeit the gift we have received. The world is a valley of tears, a realm of shadow and mourning; it will pass away. Our citizenship is in Heaven; we belong to the Jerusalem on high. 

Without presuming to limit the infinite mercy of God, we must say that those outside the Church risk everything, while those inside the Church gain everything. It is not the role of the Church to cater to man, nor to make the law of Christ—so beautiful but so severe—palatable to him. Rather, it is her solemn charge to publish abroad the Gospel of Christ crucified, who died for sinners, that they might be saved from ultimate loss and set apart for holy works and radiant sanctity.

This is a luminous vision, a lofty vocation, an arduous calling; many will spurn it, as the Lord Himself gravely warned. But anything less than this vision, this vocation, this calling, betrays the splendor of Heaven in favor of the deceits of the world. Regrettably, the Synthesis bears the stench of such betrayal. Yes, it is an artifact—indeed, an artifice—of the world. One can only take solace in the fact that it will disappear without any real impact. Yet it prompts the soul to wail and cry aloud: How long, O Lord, how long?   

Author

  • Philip Primeau

    Philip Primeau’s work has appeared in Catholic World Report, Aleteia, Catholic Exchange, and Homiletic & Pastoral Review, among other places. His devotional poetry is found at gladsomelight.substack.com. He may be contacted at primeau.philip1 -at- gmail -dot-com.

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