My relationship with the Church has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride these past few years. My sense of hope has been at war with the disappointment and anger I have felt over some of the institutional church’s response to modern issues. While it has called its own members to a renewed sense of sinfulness and mercy, it seemed to have shown little mercy on issues of divorce, gender identity and equality, while avoiding responsibility in dealing with its own sins of abuse and discrimination. I felt that at times the leaders were spending more energy on maintaining an image of moral authority, than on living out the foundational teachings of Christ. I felt conflicted dealing with these heart-wrenching spiritual dilemmas: Would continuing my contributions and participation only enable these issues to continue unchanged? Do I work from within my faith community to make my religion more accountable to the teachings of Christ? Would any voice or effort “from the pew” even make a difference in such a huge institution steeped in long-established hierarchy and traditions? Can people still find relevant guidance from a church that often seems to be out of touch with their own lived experiences? I suspect I am not alone in my questions, if empty churches and dwindling numbers of congregants are any indication.
In following the readings from the Acts of the Apostles over the Easter season, I was struck by a sense of “deja-vu!” From its earliest beginnings, apparently, the Church has been struggling to define and
re-define its identity, direction and priorities. The question presented in today’s First Reading as to whether or not all male followers of Christ must be circumcised, may seem ridiculous to our modern sensibilities, but at this point in our Church’s history it struck at the very heart of Christian identity: Must a person be a practicing Jew in order to follow Christ and thereby be eligible for salvation? It was an issue so divisive, that it threatened the future existence of the burgeoning faith. The Apostles and elders gathered to pray, debate and discern the will of the Holy Spirit on this issue. In a similar way, Pope Francis has called a Synod of “church elders” to discern the future direction and priorities of our modern Church in crises. He too, has called for input and prayer from around the world to guide the process of discernment. And just as Jewish “traditionalists” debated at the same table with Gentile “modernists” in the early gatherings of Jerusalem, so too will today’s “Synod on Synodality” be faced with equally divisive theological arguments. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the participants at all levels, and will lead them into a spirit of mercy, diplomacy, and enlightenment. The Church has lived through many such periods of dialogue and debate throughout its history, and when it was open to the grace of the Holy Spirit it was usually able to evolve into a healthier and more relevant voice for the teachings of Christ within its time. I hope and pray this Synod will prove to be regenerative and healing for our Church struggling to once again finds its place in our modern day.
In the meantime, I hold on to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel as he sends his disciples out into the world, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”