I have not written on matters of faith in a long time. “Why?” I’m sure no one has asked. I will inflict an answer upon you regardless. It’s simple. I’ve been undergoing a spiritual transformation. I have received a re-catechization and am now awakened. No longer burdened by traditional ideologies, I am forever changed, and it is my wish to pass on this possibility to all. Whoopee? you might say. To which I reply, Whoopi!
That is correct. I have been forever improved and perfected by the Vatican’s synodal way. It has been a slow process. A listening process. A synodal process. But this is my truth, and I feel the need to share my personal account.
* * *
This journey began over a year ago when my own diocese announced their preparatory synodal meetings. The diocese said it was the Vatican’s wish to gather and listen. I was skeptical. Perhaps with not 100% pure intentions, I decided to attend and see what was really in the works.
It was suggested to me that, due to my Covid vaccination status, I participate via Zoom instead of the in-person encountering, lest I kill someone’s grandma. Admittedly, this was difficult. Zoom calls are full of distractions. At the time, while the synodal speakers were discussing the challenges of accompanying marginalized groups (other than traditional Catholics), I was tempted to waste time reading about a developing war in Ukraine and a Canadian Trucker Freedom Convoy. Universe, forgive me for following such unnecessary distractions.
It all changed when I was put into contact with an important synod representative. A human being of wisdom and experience. We’ll call him Roland.
“You are so hard on this process,” Roland would say to me. “But it is fear which motivates you. Fear is a dead end. But I speak of a spirit that is not dead. An apostolic Church must flow into modern time and space. To be present.”
“I do not understand,” I would reply. “My church is dying. No one comes to Mass. I don’t blame them. I can’t stand being there. We only seem to worship ourselves. There are no new vocations. And the music! Don’t get me started. It’s all a disaster. Meanwhile, traditional Catholics are persecuted. And then you give me word salad! We need to return to a tried-and-true way that…”
“The tried-and-true way is synodal,” said Roland impatiently. “Synodal! Why synodal? And why this synodal synod? Because, as the relator general of the synod on synodality, Cardinal Hollerich, has said, we need to reconnect with ‘the experience of the journeying together of the people of God […] to bring the synodal Church into sharper focus as a comprehensive vision.’”
At first, I was much perplexed by these words, clear though they were. So, Roland offered me more synodal wisdom.
“Think of communion! There is a wise priest I know. A super-duper talented artist too. Always on the move to encounter new people in new places. A man favored by the pope: Father Rupnik. He creates images of two people joined together by one eye. Communion is how to best describe it. And what is communion? Blessed synodal participant Dr. Anna Rowlands says that, ‘Firstly, communion is the beauty of diversity in unity. In a modern world that tends towards both homogeneity and fracture, communion is a language of beauty, a harmony of unity and plurality.’”
These words made me pause. Diversity in unity? With harmony and plurality? I wasn’t quite weeping like St. Augustine at this point, but I was starting to soften inside.
“How does this help?” I asked Roland, pushing back. “I’m confused! I came to you complaining about the state of the Church and how I didn’t know where we were going. And you have my mind twisted in knots. What is happening? What is the point of this Catholicism?”
“Ah! Now you are asking the right questions. The spirit makes things messy. You are dialoguing! Let me explain with an example. Another holy synod participant, Father Davedassan, in speaking of Asia, depicts it clearly. He says, ‘The diversity of religions in Asia makes engaging in various forms of dialogue compelling to build peace, reconciliation, and harmony. We share many experiences of fruitful engagement with other Christians, persons of other religions and traditions, including indigenous spiritualities, and with the society as a whole. In formal and informal settings, dialogue towards peacebuilding, reconciliation, and harmony must permeate every aspect of the church’s life in Asia.’”
I must admit that this nearly won me over. The clarity and insight in Davedassan’s words were unrivalled. I followed each and every word quoted with engaged and active listening. Meaningful dialogue is a listening Church.
But, slow that I am, I still wasn’t quite there. I thought about this past Church I was forever trying to preserve. Some traditional form of a faith where words like sacrifice, mystery, and sin permeated. And now I found myself pondering whether this was apostolic? Interconnected? Harmonious?
I decided I needed a bit more convincing.
“So,” I said, “we dialogue and share experiences. Where does this lead us? Where, I mean, who, er, why, uh…”
“I see you are still confused,” said Roland. “Former ideologies have placed a wall inside your heart. But Pope Francis says, ‘In the synod, there is no place for ideology.’ The synod is the opposite of ideology! It is rather a system of ideas and ideals which form the basis of our belief. So, do not fear confusion. Confusion is synodal. And we must be nourished by the co-responsibility of it. The recent document, A Synodal Church in Mission, explains this well. It says:
‘Synodality can be understood as the walk of Christians with Christ and toward the kingdom, together with all humanity; mission-oriented, it involves coming together in assembly at the different ecclesial levels of life, listening to one another, dialogue, communal discernment, consensus-building as an expression of Christ’s making himself present alive in the Spirit, and decision-making in differentiated co-responsibility.’”
When I heard these words, I wept. Right in front of Roland. I wasn’t ashamed, either. I was proud. That line about differentiated co-responsibility was especially profound. And, as I blubbered away, Roland continued.
“There is still pastoral research to be done. Though perhaps the world is on the cusp of World War III, we must retain our focus on what really matters: October, 2024. We will live this synod again. No cost is too high. Too many questions remain. Will women ever be accepted as full participants of our community of believers? Will men finally receive blessings in their love for other men? Will outdated forms of worship finally be excluded because of their divisiveness? Will poor James Martin ever be made a cardinal? There is more synoding to do.
“Synoding?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Roland. “Synodness is whatever you need it to be. A noun. A verb. A being. A way of action. A way of life. But even still, there is more to it.”
“What is that?” I countered, a few sobs emanating from my lips.
“It is also a pronoun. Or several. It is a way of showing who you are.”
I was sold. With a spirit of togetherness, I declared:
“Then I shall now sign my name:
“I harmoniously accept that you accept this new reality,” said Roland. “Now go forth and be mission. Intentional disciples, walking together. This is Church. You are Church. All religions and people are Church.”
* * *
I am sure, dear reader, that you have recognized and understood every word presented above. Hopefully with communal discernment and differentiated listening. It is, after all, the complete representation of the synodal way.
However, I end by urging you to embrace this synodal way as I have. I guarantee that your life, and how you think and act, will change. Yes, you may lose some old-thinking friends. You may have to let go of a stale pre-Vatican II vision of morality. But I can assure you of one thing: You will be part of the in crowd of the Church. Imagine. Being one of the cool Catholics for a change! What greater want could any human person have on Earth?
There are only two possibilities to believe about the synodal way. Make your choice. I’ve made mine.
- That these unending synodal words will produce growth and harmony in the Church.
- That these synodal words are a deliberate mockery of the Faith.
Choose one. Embrace your truth. Defend it.
As for me, I, er…
On second thought, I will go back to being an actual Catholic.
Photo credit: Vatican Media,.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.