The Synod, One More Time

 

I was bugged all day long yesterday by one of my own posts. The post in question in this one. It was the post in which I compared the recent Synod on the Family with the United States Congress.

I tried twice last night to write another post, essentially taking back some of the sharp-edged harshness of that one, but I couldn’t get there.

Here’s what I finally came around to.

I was wrong (and this is what was bugging me) to paint all the bishops who participated in the Synod with one brush. In truth and in fact only a smattering of the participants managed to set things on their ear with their reinterpretations of the Gospels along popular lines. The Synod participants as a group backed away from this and issued a final report that stood in accordance with 2,000 years of Christian teaching on the family.

The reason I couldn’t write a major I-was-wrong about that post as a whole is that I don’t honestly think I was wrong. I believe the Synod was a failure, and the reason it was a failure was the polarization among the bishops themselves. Faithful Catholics read that final report with a massive “thanks be to God” that it didn’t do harm. Unfortunately, it also didn’t do much good.

The things I said in the post are my honest assessment of a few of our bishops. The major positive accomplishment of the Synod is not the final report. It is that it may have shone the light of reality on some of these woefully out-of-touch men. Since the whole of Church governance is built on the bishops, that is, if it’s true, a significant and healthy thing. It is also why ducking our heads and pretending that they aren’t, in fact, out of touch and trying to lead us down the broad way, is a form of disloyalty to the Church.

Powerful people need the truth more than most for the simple reason that they so seldom hear it.

I may be wrong, and if it turns out that I am, I will not hesitate to say so. But for now that’s what I think and I can’t unthink it just because the people in question are bishops of my Church.

We need to thank the bishops who stood against all the nonsensical ideas and backed away from the theological cliff. Hopefully next year we will see developments that actually support and aid the family as well as develop pastoral practices to heal the reality of those who are living the lies of our broader culture.

4 Ways the Synod on the Family was Like the United States Congress

How was the Synod on the Family like the United States Congress? Here are four ways.

1. We switched from hoping that they would accomplish something good to praying that they didn’t do any harm. By the time the Relatio came out, most faithful Catholics were just hoping and praying that the Synod managed to get through the next week and adjourn without trashing the sacraments and deep-sixing 2,000 years of Catholic teaching. We were no longer looking to the Synod for leadership, and we were certainly not expecting anything that would actually help Catholic families in they struggle to live our faith in a post-Christian world. We were just hoping that they didn’t start re-writing the Scriptures to suit the ACLU and the scriptwriters in Hollywood.

2. The Synod didn’t seem to be concerned with us, or with the Church. It gave the appearance of being all about the bishops’ private agendas and their fights with one another. At least a few of the bishops seem to be in rock-star envy of Pope Frances. The sound of one’s own voice is addicting, and several of our bishops appear to be in serious need of a sound-bite 12-step program. None of this would have mattered if they had not used their time on air to attack one another, (one of them even took off after the Pope) and to prattle on about their great desire to re-make the Church in their own image. It was a sad, sorry display of ego-driven sniping, carping tom-foolery by men who claim they speak for the humble Carpenter of Nazareth. 

3. The Synod exposed a number of the bishops as men who are too insulated, too flattered, too pampered and too proud of themselves to properly do their jobs. Does anybody tell these guys they’re full of it when they’re full of it? Does anyone in the circle of people around them remind them that they are but dust? I’ve seen, up close and personal, how easily constant flattery and being treated as if you were special can destroy a person’s equilibrium. I’ve seen it enough that I recognize its effects on a person when that person is in front of me, or, as in this case, on a news video. A number of our bishops need a year or so of sacking groceries in a t shirt and blue jeans to get their minds right. 

4. The Synod talked about Religion with a capital R, but it didn’t seem to care about faith and following Christ all that much. Was I the only observer who noticed how often these men talked about themselves and one another and how seldom they referenced Our Lord? Jesus was mostly absent from their comments, as was faith. They did not give me the impression that they were trying to follow Christ and Him crucified. I mean that. They were singularly lacking in humility, gentleness, common kindness and common sense. 

All in all, I was relieved when these boys in red and black wrote up their final results and went home. I am not looking forward to the next go-round at all.

I don’t want pious play acting from my bishops. I certainly don’t expect perfection. In fact, I know that they are as incapable of perfection as any other person who walks this planet. I know and acknowledge what so many Catholics, priests and bishops collude in trying to ignore: These men are just people. I don’t want perfection. I would know it was a lie if they tried to pretend it. I certainly don’t want the stuffy royal distancing that would help them maintain a false facade of holy perfection.

The day is past when the Church can grow and witness to the Gospels on a  diet of religious cornflakes and Queen Elizabeth waves from distant clergy.

We don’t need CEOs in miters, playing to each other. We need men who are alive with the call to convert the world. The Church has lost its missionary fervor. It must regain it.

All I ask of my clergy is authenticity. I don’t mean a fantasy, never-sinned perfection. I don’t care if my priests and bishops fall down and skin their knees. I don’t hold that against them any more than they’ve held my sins against me. We are all down here in the pits together in this life and we need to forgive and love one another without grinding our failures in each other’s faces.

My concern about the bishops who made all the noise at the Synod isn’t that some of them are rather obvious snobs and that some of them are in love with being in front of a camera. Being a show boat is probably one of the job requirements for being a bishop. If you’re the sort of person who detests being the center of attention, you probably would never want to be a priest in the first place.

My concern — and it is a concern, not a condemnation — is that at least a few of them are getting dangerously close to abandoning the call of every Christian on this planet, which is to follow Christ the Lord. We are — all of us, from back-row pew sitter to prince of the Church, required to yield ourselves over to Him and His leadership.

I didn’t see that in this Synod. What I saw was a lot of in-fighting and politics, a tiny bit of faith-talk when it fit the scenario and an overwhelming me-me-me. In that it was remarkably like that other all-too-human deliberative body, the United States Congress.

Princes, Human Beings and Doing the Things We Hate

John Corapi shook people’s faith.

The bishops who repeatedly transferred child-abusing priests shook people’s faith.

I tremble to think of it, but I imagine that if I fell into some deep disgrace, that would shake a few people’s faith.

I can’t speak for other people, but I want everyone who knows me to understand that I fall flat on my spiritual face on a pretty regular basis. Don’t look to me for salvation, or even a good example. If you look to me for anything, it should be proof that God’s love is greater than all our sins and weaknesses, that the only thing we have to fear is living by our own understanding rather than His.

Despite the love and forgiveness God has showered on me, I still sin. I will always sin until I go home to Him.

St Paul said it best: “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.”  

That’s one of the greatest saints talking. If he couldn’t manage to live sinlessly, why should I expect that of myself? How can I expect it of anyone else?

I am not asking anyone to “forgive” these failed priests and bishops. I am offering an admonition, a plea, for people to stop confusing them with Christ the Lord.

“Do not put your faith in princes and human beings, who cannot save.” the Psalmist tells us.

Do not worship your spiritual leaders or expect them to be more than the fallen human beings they are. Priests and bishops are our spiritual leaders. They are our teachers. They are men who have consented to be conduits of God’s grace by way of the sacraments. They bring us Jesus in the Eucharist, which makes them precious to us. God can and does reach through them and into us to deliver healing and help.

But they are also made of dust, just like the rest of us. They can and will betray you and hurt you and, yes, betray and dishonor the vows they’ve taken and the trust people place in them. They can do this. And they will. They will, because that is our common human fate as co-inheritors of original sin. Yes, we are also co-inheritors of eternal life in Christ. Yes, we are forgiven this blight on our souls, washed clean of its eternal smear by the blood of Calvary. But so long as we live in this fallen world and eat of its fruits we will be subject to our own fallen natures.

“I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.”  

That’s all of us, including these fallen priests and bishops who have betrayed themselves and their own souls along with the great trust that was placed in them. That is why we should never confuse these men with the God they serve.

I try to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church because I know they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. I respect the work that priests do because I know that they, however weak they may be as men, are conduits of grace in the sacraments, and that this grace is freely available to all of us through them. But I do not worship them or expect them to be anything other than the ordinary people they are.

When they fail, I do not doubt Christ because of it for the simple reason that they are not Christ. I know whom I have believed, and He is not them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me,” Jesus told us.

Trust in me,” He said.

Not John Corapi. Not any bishop or priest.

Do not forfeit your eternal salvation over the weaknesses of other fallen human beings, no matter how exalted they have become in your eyes. Trust in Jesus and Him alone and no matter how you fail, or how others fail you, you will never lose your way.

 


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