Northjersey.com’s report on the results of synodal discussions in New Jersey reveals the fault lines among those who self-identify as Catholics and have been willing to take part in the synodal process. The headline is revealing: ‘Too harsh’ and ‘out of step’: Survey finds NJ Catholics want a more inclusive church’. The story is somewhat more complex than that, but the emphasis in the discussions and in the headline are predictable.
I have a theory about all this, though it may be colored by my personal dislike of “meetings”, which seem to me to be about the most inefficient use of time imaginable. But especially in the case of the synodal discussions, it has been obvious from the first that they would become a sounding board for Catholics who no longer have (or perhaps never had) a serious commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ. One of the grave problems with the democratization of Just About Everything over the past few hundred years—a problem, by the way, that is built directly into Protestant forms of Christianity—is that many people think religion ought to be just like everything else—malleable in accordance with the desires of those who wish to participate in it.
We live in an era in which people actually believe that consciences formed by the larger secular culture are capable of offering intelligent insights into how the Catholic Church needs to change—and particularly how it needs to be less “judgmental” and how it is “out of step”. Nine times out of ten—not always I admit, but nine times out of ten—this will be the opinion of those who: (a) Do not agree that Catholic doctrine comes ultimately from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God; and (b) Do agree that it is “unloving” of the Church to insist that those who claim membership should be willing to take advantage of her ministry to overcome their erroneous beliefs and habitual sins….
It ought not to surprise us that a great deal of the discussion will be spiritually puerile and even faithless. The synodal effort will be effective only insofar as those whose vocations have put them into leadership positions in the Church can distinguish between comments which call the Church to accommodate herself more to cultural norms—to become less “harsh” and “out of step”—and comments that recall the Church to a sense of courageous and uncompromising mission, which ought to be the defining spiritual, psychological and sociological mark of all those who have been baptized into Jesus Christ….
We need not look farther than the Book of Revelation to learn what Our Lord thinks of all this. In chapters 2 and 3, the Son of Man sends clear messages to the “seven churches” which represent the fullness of the one Church:
- To the Church in Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (2:4)
- To the Church in Smyrna: “You will be tested. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10)
- To the Church in Pergamum: “You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam;…also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolatians. Therefore repent.” (2:14-16)
- To the Church in Thyatira: “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (2:20).
- To the Church in Sardis: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.” (3:1-2)
- To the Church in Philadelphia: “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (3:8)
- To the Church in Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (3:15-16)
He who speaks these words to the Church is “the first and the last, who died and came to life” (2:8) and “the holy one, the true one…who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (3:7).
The Church must respond to synodal discussions with a recognition of which observations are part of the problem and which are part of the solution. We must make no mistake: Synodality is first and foremost about the Church, at every level, finding her “way together” with Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
The above comes from an August 16 posting by Jeff Mirus on Catholic Culture.org