By Sean O'Leary
Awareness, experience, and insight comes from all people in a community. Exploring faith in a diverse and interdependent world invites us to accept the inevitability of uncertainty and tensions as we answer the ongoing call to critique the Church and the world. While acknowledging that no guaranteed process exists, we must see, judge and act both individually and communally. This is synodality, a dance between humility and boldness. It requires nothing less than the courage to love God and our neighbour as ourselves.
One challenge, perhaps even the defining challenge of our era, that faces the People of God in a globalised world is our understanding of Catholicism in pluralist contexts without potentially accepting relativism. A faith that is so widespread and deep in its possibilities can also be narrowed and solidified to such an extent that it can paradoxically become an obstacle to living faithfully in this world with its increasingly rapid pace of change. The first step in solving this paradox begins with the question: How do we live out the Good News today?
As we come to appreciate the challenging and nuanced journey of the Church through time and acknowledge the need for atonement, we develop a clearer understanding of Church teaching as a proposal that although incomplete was not always lived up to. And so, we begin to see that Church teaching is always in need of clarification and considered addition. In this essential undertaking, we are aided by the Holy Spirit who offers us renewed insights into what the Gospels mean today. This path of self-discovery and discovery does not simply concern how the Church understands its own theological identity but embraces all the People of God and indeed the entire world in helping all to make sense of the Church and her mission. In this way, we also develop an alternative perspective to the privatised view of religion often put forward by secularism.
The ancient concept of Catholicity provides a certain coherence and practical understanding of the Church in a modern pluralistic world. In broad terms, Catholicity encompasses concepts, such as universality, wholeness, and authenticity through breaking down barriers and seeking the reconciliation of diverse elements. In this way, Catholicity acknowledges the progression of the Church in the wisdom of God towards perfection and unity.
The larger journey of the Church is also reflected in our individual journeys. It is clear from our synodal journeying that barriers and tensions still exist in the world. There are complex struggles for wealth, resources, and power at the global level and deep struggles for identity and justice at the community and personal levels. These struggles bring great risks for each one of us that could propel us towards an extreme individualism, a fearful neutrality, an exclusively spiritual focus, or a life-draining nihilism.
How do we offer a broken witness in a fragmented world? How do we talk about peace and unity in a broken world? How do we work towards redistributing power? How do we understand authority, transparency, and accountability in the Church? How is God already at work in the world and how can this grace be nurtured? These are all questions that are emerging from our experiences of Synod and help us discern the signs of the times. These larger questions emerge from hearing the voices of young people; people with disabilities; those who feel neglected and excluded; the clergy, religious and laity who live in different contexts; and the women and men who wish to realise their baptismal dignity more fully.
There is a fledgling hope here that is beyond any earthly power to divide and exclude. The crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord teaches us that there is a profound truth in vulnerability and that this truth cannot be conquered. Our mission to serve is not a one-way street but a reciprocal process of mutual enrichment that recognises the dignity of all. By listening to and welcoming all, we share each other’s journey and lament our human sorrows. Perhaps the current Synod, the biggest worldwide manifestation of listening ever attempted in the history of the world, should be interpreted as a modern lamentation that can help the world to name suffering and transform injustice through faith and the grace of God.
As we work towards enlarging the space of our tent, synodality opens new possibilities for more widespread human understanding, interaction and solidarity through sharing real experiences whilst further exploring our mutuality and interdependence. It is through such sharing that we can grow in awareness of how God creates parts and wholes; holds together finite differences; and upholds dignity, integrity, and flourishing. Such Catholicity is a precious gift to the entire world.
The power of God’s voice reverberates throughout Creation in the command ‘Let there be Light’ and so we shouldn’t be surprised that Catholicity also begins with communication, a communication that is generative, committed to truth-seeking, and capable of elevating the human heart and mind.