Reflections on following the Synod
Does the Synod have you feeling nervous? I find it has made a lot of Catholics worried, uncomfortable, even upset and wary -- you pick your word. It also is making others hopeful and relieved that things are about to change in radical ways. I would urge caution on these anticipations and invite you all to pray for Pope Francis and those participating. Pray that they hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which guides and protects the church.
Allow me to give three simple reminders as we watch and wait for what happens in the Synod.
1. The pope is colorful. So many want things to be "black and white," and they are repulsed by the wishy-washy "grey" in between. Pope Francis writes in "Amoris Laetitia," 305, "By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give Glory to God." I like to think of black and white as the ends of the spectrum, and in between lies all the colors. The Holy Spirit works in the colors. The world, the church and our own relationship with God is constantly evolving and moving, and we need to be willing to see the subtleties. Pope Francis is unafraid of allowing the Holy Spirit to burn, and he trusts that if we truly listen to it, it can only lead to good.
2. God tells us he is not heard in the loud but in the whisper. Tell me, which voice will you more likely hear in the media coverage -- the bishop or layperson who stands up and says a perfectly orthodox and profound insight that plants seeds in the hearts of all who hear it, or a bishop or layperson who stands up for radical reform? It is undoubtedly the second. Sift through what you read or watch and consider the agenda of the media source. This is only the first session of the synod; we have a long way to go. Trust that what emerges in the end will be God's will, and don't get carried away by those who are profiting on your emotions.
3. "The church is in ever need of reform." Any study of church history will show that from the early church on, the church has been in reform guided by the Holy Spirit. Read the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 13 and witness the angst of the First Council of Jerusalem. Recall how the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, revisioned itself at the Second Vatican Council. Reform is how we grow towards God. Father Yves Congar advises guidelines in his book "True and False Reform in the Church." I read about them recently in an old bulletin column of the late theologian from Boston, Father John Connelly, who wrote:
"Father Congar lists four conditions for the discernment of genuine reform, and by genuine reform he means a reform that does not result in heresy or schism. What are the four conditions? First of all, reform in the church must make charity and pastoral care a priority. Second, it must demonstrate an abiding commitment to communion with the entire church. Thirdly, reform must always be patient. And fourthly, reform must operate from a profound fidelity to Catholic tradition. The beginning of a new church, the beginning of a new sect, the rejection of basic Catholic doctrine, are always examples of false reform."
Let us pray intensely for the coming of the Holy Spirit and for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. May the dialog in the halls of the Synod be lively and open. May the Holy Spirit filter out what is false reform and lead us where God calls us. Finally, may the God of peace teach us patience and trust.
BISHOP MARK O'CONNELL IS VICAR GENERAL OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.