Whither the Synod?

The Synod organizers themselves don’t really know where any of this is going, but we’re all supposed to be on the way anyway.   

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None of us knows where he’s going, but we’re all on the way!     

Of all the absurdly stupid things I’ve ever heard, this was far and away the nuttiest, most insanely silly of them all. And yet it was often and annoyingly said to me during the dark days I spent in Vietnam, driving a handful of officers around in an old jeep because my skill set as a foot soldier was less than zero. In later years, I would tell people that if the Army hadn’t sent me there, we might actually have won the war. None of my superiors were the least bit amused by my pathetic performance; and when asked why exactly I needed to be there, they would simply say, “Son, none of us knows where he’s going, but we’re all on the way!”

Not entirely helpful, I’d say. Still, it was pretty much what you’d expect from the Military: standard-issue stupidity. However, one doesn’t look for looniness from the Church, does one? At least not every day. But with the Synod now going on in Rome, it’s become a staple diet among the organizers, who seem never to tire of repeating the same boilerplate, which is that we are to listen to diverse voices and heed the Spirit moving mysteriously through rank upon rank of all those marginalized members of the Church. In other words, while we really don’t know where any of this is going, we’re all of us on the way anyway.                         

Meanwhile, I have yet to meet any of these people. Who exactly are they whom we’ve so cruelly consigned to the margins of ecclesial life? Where do they hang out? Do they go to Mass, frequent the sacraments, drop a dime or two in the basket? I really have not seen anyone who fits the description. Yet, we are being told that it is all somehow our fault, their silence is the result of our noise. If we’d only shut up and listen to those left behind, stranded along the peripheries, things would dramatically improve.  

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“The situation is not easy,” Pope Francis has told us. “There is a very strong reactionary attitude,” that keeps getting in the way. And, of course, it wears an American face. Too many of us are indietrismo (“backward looking”), which leads to intolerance, bigotry, “a climate of closure where ideology replaces faith.” So, we’ve got to stop being “all rigid and contorted,” in order to empower those who feel left out.

The point is, we’ve denied these folks for too long a place at the table. But which table is that exactly? Are they talking about the Lord’s Table, the Altar of Sacrifice on which the High Priest enacts the great drama of the world’s salvation? Do they mean the place where the Holy Eucharist is confected and all the faithful are invited to dine? When have any of these disaffected souls been denied access to Christ, refused admittance to the One whose mercy is meant for all who come broken and repentant?

To whom, exactly, are we being told to listen? To the voices of dissent, the unrepentant ones, who insist that the Church change her teaching on the meaning of marriage? So much simpler, they say, than changing themselves. To the Talking Heads who endlessly prate on television about how benighted the rest of us are because we won’t listen to those who, like themselves, long to highjack the Church, forcing her onto a Procrustean Bed in order to peel away whatever hard sayings have gotten in their way? Sayings derived from Christ Himself, by the way, who endowed His Church with the authority to pass on that same Faith.    To whom, exactly, are we being told to listen? To the voices of dissent, the unrepentant ones, who insist that the Church change her teaching on the meaning of marriage?Tweet This

This is not the voice of Christ we are being urged to hear. Nor His Spirit, who, together with the Father, is breathed forth from the depths of trinitarian love. Instead, it is the fallen and corrupt spirit of the age, a zeitgeist wholly bent upon the destruction of the Church we know and love, a Mother from whom we have gladly taken nourishment for years and years. Do these people not know anything? That the Church can no more change her teaching on the latest hot-button issues of the day than she can cease being the Bride and Body of Christ?

Do they not know that the Church they appear so impatient with, whose structures they wish to dismantle, does not even belong to them? It does not belong to any of us. It belongs to Christ, the Pierced and Crucified Lord, who fashioned her with His blood. Why else would the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the defining text on who and what she is, have expressly identified Christ as “the Light of the Nations”? Not her, but Him—Jesus Christ—before whom she stands in a relation perfectly analogous to that of the moon in its nearness to the sun. All of whose light and life derive entirely from Christ, without whom she is darkness and death.

Have we forgotten so soon the central teaching on the Church, brought forth as recently as the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), that it is only Christ who sets the agenda, who determines the direction in which the People of God are to go? It is not the job of this or that faction, interest group, or aggrieved minority, to tell Christ what to do. 

“Many no longer believe that what is at issue is a reality willed by the Lord himself,” lamented a former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by the name of Joseph Ratzinger. “Even with some theologians,” he added, “the Church appears to be a human construction, an instrument created by us and one which we ourselves can freely reorganize according to the requirements of the moment.”

That sounds like the description of a machine, the running of which requires oil and gas, and a technician or two to keep the parts well lubricated. But the Church is a mystery, not machinery, which means she does not run on oil and gas but the grace of Jesus Christ, who is the animating source of her life, her mission.

So, if it’s not too late, why not let the Synod in on the secret, that they need to listen to Christ, not the world, not themselves. To quote a wise and holy woman, “Do whatever He tells you.”


  • 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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