· Vatican City ·

A small light in this dark hour

 A small light  in this  dark hour  ING-044
03 November 2023

In a world that is in flames and on the brink of the abyss of a new world conflict; in a world marked by the inability to listen and by hatred that foments war and violence, also reflected in the digital world; the fact that some 400 people gathered together for one month, far away from home to pray, listen to one another, and have discussions, is undoubtedly news. The Synodal Church that Pope Francis urges, today represents a small seed of hope: It is still possible to engage in dialogue, to welcome one other, leaving behind our attention-seeking ways, and to overcome polarization, in order to reach a widely shared consensus. We are living a dark hour, a time in which verbal violence and single mindedness sustain wars and terrorism which slaughter civilians and children. A dark hour in which even “peace”, “dialogue”, “negotiation” and “ceasefire” have become unpronounceable. A dark hour marked by a shortage of courage, foresight and diplomatic creativity on every level, starting with governments and the establishment. There is really a need to cling to prayer. There is really a need to support and follow a prophetic voice, capable of rising up and transcending interests, ideologies and partisanship: the voice of the Bishop of Rome. In a burning world, the Synod celebrated in October was like a small seed, which we hope was laden with consequences for the future of the Church and all of humanity.

Looking to the Church and her mission, quite a few novelties can be found in the Synthesis Report — voted on with a very wide margin of agreement — of the first session of the Synod, which will conclude next year. First of all, a greater awareness of the need to implement the teachings of the last Council with regards to the single call that involves all of us as baptized people. In every page of the Gospel, Jesus, who approached everyone and spoke to everyone, was opposed and attacked by the castes: the clerics of the time, who used to put heavy burdens on the shoulders of others, the scribes, the doctors of the law, the teachers of doctrine. The Church on all levels, from the Roman Curia to the smallest parish, needs to look to Jesus in order to recover the awareness that every ministry is service and not power, and it is truly “useful” if it draws near, unites, makes people co-responsible, creates fraternity, witnesses God’s mercy, not if it alienates or becomes stuck in privileges, not if it draws lines of division between those who are ordained and those who are not, and not if it considers laypeople as second class baptized people (perhaps more with actions than with words). At the same time, baptized people who were not called to the vocation of ordination but to other forms of witness and service in the one baptismal priesthood, should avoid the risk of wanting to clericalize themselves or of allowing themselves to be clericalized in order to go beyond the small castes of “involved laypeople”. The Synod on Synodality will be a seed of hope if the time of grace experienced by the men (who were the majority, and the majority of them bishops) and women gathered in Rome, is witnessed as a method to be implemented with patience in each expression of the life of Christian communities. It will not be a seed of hope if it is reduced to bureaucratic fulfilment, perhaps even putting it in the blender of “ecclesialese” and self-referential language, a mixture of old clerical categories, those of a Church that says it wants to implement the Council but then acts with pre-Council categories through established practices, with bishops and priests making decisions and the other baptized people limiting themselves to putting their decisions into practice.

The Synthesis Report that was just published mentions the shared necessity to make more room for women, for the brilliance of women, for the Marian principle that is so important in the Church. Also in this case, it would be sufficient to have the courage to look to the Gospel more and to trust Jesus more. At the foot of the Cross when the Apostles and the disciples (except for John) had fled, the women were there. As he died, they remained. And the first proclamation of the Resurrection was made thanks to their intuition and their courage to leave the Upper Room. Women were at the empty tomb first, not men, nor the frightened Apostles who had stayed shut away at home. The first proclamation of the most outstanding novelty in the history of humanity, that of God made Man, who died for us and rose again, making us part of this destiny, was made by women, not men. They bear witness to what they saw: the empty tomb. They are the first to say that Jesus is alive. They give the first homily on the kerygma, on the essence of our faith, to the Apostles and the disciples who were still terrified about what had occurred on Good Friday. This would suffice as a starting point to understand that women should be valued much more at every level of the Church, defeating the blight of clericalism, a disease that is unfortunately still very established and repeatedly denounced by the Successor of Peter. We hope that the Synod’s Synthesis Report will be a point of no return in recovering the evangelical origins also in this regard.

Another aspect that emerges from the text approved by the Synod is welcoming wounded people. Welcoming poor people — closeness to them and the preferential choice for them is a teaching of Jesus and of the tradition of the Church Fathers, not a sociological category or a discovery of liberation theology — and welcoming migrants in whom Christians cannot but see the reflection of the faces of the Holy Family of Nazareth in flight. But also welcoming those who are “irregulars”, who are distant, who are “unpresentable”. Once again we have to return to the Gospel and to those very effective words that the Bishop of Rome entrusted to young people at World Youth Day in Lisbon, when he underlined that there is really room for everyone in the Church: “todos, todos, todos”.

In every page of the Gospel, we see Jesus breaking established taboos and traditions, dismantling self-righteousness and hypocrisy, in order to embrace the sinner, the wounded, the discarded, those who are not in compliance with the law, the corrupt, the distant, those who are not “one of us”. It will do us all good to return to the dynamic of what happened in Jericho in March of the year 30 a.d., a few days before Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection, when the Teacher, passing underneath a sycamore tree, lifted his gaze and called to the small corrupt publican whom everyone despised, and invited himself to his home. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus, recognized his own sins and converted. But this conversion is the consequence of having first been looked upon with love, welcomed and inundated with mercy; it is not a necessary prerequisite. We need a Church that, with the same gaze as Jesus, can look at every woman and every man, with their wretchedness, with their sins, making them feel welcome and accompanying them with patience and tenderness, trusting in grace and its action in the heart of people and their stories, according to God’s times and ways.

Lastly, how can we fail to mention the points in which the Synthesis Report calls for a review of canon law, of continuing with greater conviction and concreteness on the path of ecumenism, of giving greater value to the already existing synodal structures? And also, of taking the path Saint John Paul ii pointed to, in vain, since 1995, with regards to the Pope’s ministry: finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation” (Ut unum sint).

(A. Tornielli)

Andrea Tornielli