Bishop Flores of Brownsville, Texas, has written a beautiful letter about the Synod. Its theme is: ‘We cannot love the Church as we wish she were but only as she is.’ He talks about God’s healing our wounds and Christ’s suffering on the cross as sign of how much God loves us and invites our love in return. The Holy Spirit is given to allow us to share God’s life of the Holy Trinity. Standing before a crucifix, on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, aware of the presence of God wherever we are, constantly invites us to share that life and love. Reading the Gospel and hearing the words of Jesus bringing alive that love, we learn how much God has loved us and always will, knowing our hurts, hopes, anxieties and aspirations.
There is always tension between idea and reality. Realities are how we work out the idea – and the two must not be separated. In some ways the communion of the universal Church has been reduced to measuring who agrees or disagrees with the Pope and Bishops on this or that point of Catholic doctrine. The Synod, however, wants us to move from a small awareness to a universal one: our communion in faith, hope and charity.
“We do not live better lives if we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own opinions. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide,” says Pope Francis, and Bishop Flores agrees – which is why he wants us fully alive to the local church and then to the universal. People ask him, he tells us, what we are going to do, and he replies that we are not sure yet: we have to listen, discern and then make good decisions about meeting our challenges together. Local reality and universal mission are the synodal inspirations, we shall learn from mistakes as well as good judgements.
How encouraging the whole of his letter is: do not be afraid, speak honestly, listen carefully, pray, then, you and I and God can come together in a new understanding. Underlying the letter is the probing question: is God, for you, someone or something? To talk to or to talk about?
Where are the young? Not in church. In a powerful article from France Isabel de Gualmyn looks at the young people of her country and wonders what world they will shape. There are almost no young people in the church, she says, and we can endlessly argue about their political and church choices, but we do not know. We cannot listen simply to the political views and Church preferences of the few young people who actually come to mass: we should ask where all the others of their generation are. Such a massive trend away from Church membership cannot be explained by the inability of parents to transmit their religious values to their children because, in other areas of life, they manage to do well.
We must have the courage to ask ourselves certain questions. Do today’s young people, concerned with a great deal of tolerance to all life choices, feel at home in a Church with so many moral norms? Can young women, who have grown up in today’s world, feel part of the liturgy as it is currently celebrated? Is the language of the Church and churchgoers accessible, understandable, relevant to young people? The Gospel message is powerful, overwhelming, yet it elicits only polite indifference among the young. We need to reach out to the majority of young people who have no interest or reason for reaching out to us – whilst treasuring those who are actually in church.
God bless us to be interested in every aspect of the life of the Church and to be involved wherever we can be.
(12th June 2022)