The Manila Times

What is so threatening about synodality?


DON’T get off a bus before reaching your destination! We are pilgrims — and therefore on the way. It would be disastrous to the cause of synodality if we were to delude ourselves into thinking that we have reached our destination.

The Synod on Synodality, which will take place in October 2024, is certainly not the end of the synodal journey. It will rather be the time that bishops, representing local churches, with the Holy Father, will propose to us all the course we must take if synodality is to become a permanent way of being Church, a characteristic of our Church, a feature of being Catholic!

But let’s face the fact that not everyone is enthused about synodality. In fact, the professors of one well-known and supposedly reputable Catholic university in Manila are deeply suspicious, if not hostile to it. We must ask why.

And the most direct riposte that can be given is that synodality takes people of the Church out of the comfort zone of the familiar and the usual. When one admits into one’s tent those who have usually stayed out, one is afraid that, soon, one will be eased out of one’s own tent — in the manner of the proverbial Arab who let in his camel, first its head, then its neck, then its front legs, until the whole camel entered the tent, leaving no more room for the owner!

Synodality asks us to talk to those we have deemed unworthy of any part in the conversation: non-Catholics, divorcees, persons in irregular unions, PWDs, members of the LGBTQIA+ sector, even prisoners and others we consider the dregs of society. What can be so harmful about including them in our conversation as believers? We must try to understand what disturbs our fellow Catholics about synodality so that we are clear about the obstacles that stand in the way.

Inclusiveness can be threatening because, confronted by the attitudes, beliefs and positions that others maintain, the soundness of our own prejudices, beliefs and traditions is brought up for examination. Inclusiveness can be threatening because we are most comfortable when we have neat categories within which we can classify people. Then the world is ordered and orderly — according to our own designs and concepts of order.

If we are very sure of what we believe, what should be so threatening about listening to what others believe? But listening to others can be disturbing for those who care more that it is their posture rather than the truth. If it matters more to me that I have the last word, then obviously allowing others to speak their word can be profoundly unsettling.

One outspoken American bishop has blasted Pope Francis for launching synodality and foresees that at the Synod on Synodality, it will become clear that Pope Francis is leading a schismatic church. Regrettably, Raymond Arroyo of EWTN is notorious for taking potshots at Pope Francis and shadow-boxing with regard to synodality.

Let us be clear: Synodality is not a call to abandon dogma. It is not compromising on the Church’s moral teaching. But it is realizing that truth is the goal of a pilgrim people — and as such, is a constant endeavor and a laborious quest of a people rather than the achievement and accomplishment of one or a few. When the Lord assured his worried apostles that the Spirit would lead them into all truth, he was also teaching them the important lesson that truth is the Spirit’s gift to a humble, listening people and will not come to the “triumphalistic” who boast that they are already in possession of the truth and that, consequently, all else who believe otherwise sit in the shadow of darkness!

Should we not be excited rather at the ways heretofore unknown through which the Spirit will lead us, as long as we recognize that the Holy Spirit comes not only to us but to others as well — even to members of other faith communities? In a document of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See, we find this enlightened statement:

In any case, the salvation brought in Christ through the Spirit works beyond the Church’s frontiers: “All this holds true not for Christians only but also for all men of goodwill in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (GS 22). All this takes place, above all, through other religions. Indeed, Vatican 2 teaches that “whatever good or truth is found” in other religions is “given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life” (LG 16).

While we boast about being open-minded citizens of the world, free of the constraints of obsolescent beliefs, the culture of “writing off” and “canceling” is very much in place. The last elections provide a good example. I can grant without any difficulty at all that some Catholics, priests and bishops even, may have had very strong preferences for certain candidates. That is their right, and it is probably right that they endeavored to educate the electorate. Unfortunately, together with their enthusiastic promotion of the bid of their favored candidate, there came the rather harsh and frankly unChristian “cancellation” and “writing off” of all who did not have a liking for the color of their choice, or who refused to march to the beat of their drums. This too is an obstacle that stands in the way of synodality.

When you learn of a priest who has failed in the obligation of celibacy or who has been charged with molestation, is it not a fact that we write him off — unworthy of being listened to ever again? How seriously do you listen when a member of the LGBTQIA+ community tells you of his or her aspiration to be able to live a common life with a person of his or her choosing that does not fall into one of the neat categories of common life spelled out in the Family Code of the Philippines? Do you not cringe in horror at the prospect that the Philippine legislature may enact a law allowing for some kind of union of same-sex couples, refusing to entertain in any way, at least the question, if not the arguments, for such a proposal?

But, as we are pilgrims of hope, we forge ahead because we are convinced that it is the way to which the Spirit of God leads us.

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