As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin. Dioceses and parishes around the world should be letting the baptized know of this, setting up listening sessions and targeting those who are on the margins of Church life and of our societies. Surprised by that? Yeah. I thought so. Crickets in your parish and diocese? Same for me. And I wonder why that is, so here’s my speculations about what’s behind the deafening silence. Together maybe we will discover if any of this is driving the silence.
Fatigue. These last 18+ months have worn out almost everyone. So much change. So much uncertainty. So much sickness and death. So much rhetoric. Just so much. Bishops, priests, and parish councils must be feeling the effects of this fatigue: inertia. Uselessness. Lack of resources. Difficulty setting or re-setting priorities.
Failures. So much of what has “descended from on high” has gone nowhere. Through the years, lots of effort has gone in to planning, publicizing, and hosting events and activities intended to spark some sort of change. And then nothing changes. I suspect that underlying some of the inertia and fatigue is this idea that past efforts have been colossal failures. A history of failure removes hope, stifles the spark of the Spirit, and fosters silence. “If we just ignore this, it will go away, and there will be no real consequence of that for me/us. Let’s just lay low, keep doing what we are doing, and this will come and go, like all the others.”
Fear. Fear is a powerful motivator. It can activate our fight, flight, or freeze response to protect us. It can make us self-focused and breeds a kind of cynicism that protects us from having to take risks. I suspect there’s a good deal of fear about this call for widespread listening to the faithful rolling around among many who hold power in our Church. Can’t say as I blame them. It takes a lot of courage to open the door wide and respectfully listen to the voices outside of our own echo chambers. A. Lot. Of. Courage. Courage is both a gift of the Holy Spirit and a skill to be cultivated. So, I wonder if another reason for the silence has to do with
Faith. Particularly the kind of faith that demands trust in the Living God whose Spirit is alive, animating the world, refusing to be boxed in by any person, system or institution, a Spirit breathing upon the chaos of our world with God’s creative breath, speaking into being a transforming process that will lead to a new creation. For Bishops and priests, this takes a particularly robust faith, and a trust that is willing to lay down their power, their education, their position, and their perspectives and allow the Spirit free rein. I’ve not seen much of that kind of Spirit-animated faith displayed by the Church’s leadership. It makes me wonder if the silence is an outward sign of a weak faith in the Triune God, in Christ who is the head of the Church, in the Spirit’s Lordship, as the giver of life, and in Mary’s fiat as a call to their own surrender of life and will to the story God is trying to write?
As a woman of faith, as a member of the baptized faithful, as a citizen of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and as one who loves the best of the Church and yearns for her to be more of who she claims to be, the silence is both disturbing and predictable. But this time, the Holy Father has given permission for the laity to arise, to hold their own listening sessions and to share what they hear directly with the Church leaders who have called for the synod. Let us arise, then, as Matthew did when Jesus invited him to follow him. Let us arise, organize ourselves, and speak our truths despite the silence surrounding the Synod. Let us courageously and faithfully participate in the synodal process, and in so doing, follow the Lord who calls us to arise, to trust Him and so to build the Church into the shining city on the hill, lighting the way for all.
NOTE: This synod is to begin with us on October 17, 2021! Let’s get started! See www.synod.va for the Preparatory Document and plan to participate!