Pope Francis, Marshall McLuhan, and John Lewis walk into a bar...
The universal Catholic Church is currently engaged in a massive world-wide undertaking.
Pope Francis has called for a synod, which is a church gathering that goes back to biblical times
(Acts 1:12-17). It usually consists of bishops who gather under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discuss and decide on matters of Church life and mission.
This synod is quite different. It will eventually end up in the hands of the bishops, but Pope Francis is reaching out to every Catholic in the world,
asking all of us to participate. This is a unique opportunity in the life the of the church – one that has the potential of affecting the thought and behavior of the Church of the future. The synod might learn something from Marshall McLuhan - the communication theorist who became famous during the 1960s for his studies of the effects of mass media on thought and behavior.
There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan
We are taught that Catholicism is a loving religion that cares for all. But despite the direct teachings and example of Jesus, the institutional church has systematically marginalized women, native peoples, and other belief systems throughout history. This synod is perhaps the most level playing field the Church has ever offered. No matter what comes from this, we are all invited to crew this effort, and are foolish if we choose not to sign on.
Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers. Marshall McLuhan
Unlike other synods that gather the “usual suspects,” this synod is going out to the highways and byways and inviting everybody to the wedding feast (Lk 14:23). At the October 10, 2021 opening Mass for the synod, Pope Francis said that the synod must include "those on the periphery, like those who are persecuted or oppressed due to their age, religion, color or gender." In a prerecorded video, Dominican Sr. Donna Ciangio, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, said that the listening process must also include people who have left the Catholic faith. Pope Francis wants to hear from the troublemakers.
Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.
Years back, I went to a gathering of people from various parishes across the sprawling Archdiocese of Los Angeles. This was also called a synod.
I went assuming that topics would be raised, discussed, and recorded, and I looked forward to participating. What actually happened was that we all traveled to downtown L.A. in order to rubber stamp, by show of hands, work that had been developed by a committee – work that to me, had no teeth. When I heard about this new synod, I had to shake off this memory. It had outlived its uselessness.
The answers are always inside the problem, not outside.
The best aspects of Catholicism have helped me walk through the mystery of God. But for a variety of reasons, many Catholics never had that experience.
Their stories challenge a fundamental assumption that disaffiliation is a problem the church can solve by finding creative new ways of sharing its message. But until the church takes a deeper look at the message itself, no new evangelization efforts are going to reach those who are on the verge of leaving or have already gone.
We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror.
In Paul Shirley’s book, The Process Is the Product, Shirley suggests that it doesn’t matter if it’s professional sports, public speaking, engineering, or acting [and I would add synoding]
– there will never be enough money, fame, or success to justify all the work, if you can’t enjoy the work itself.
You have to fall in love with the process. So, I’m giving up looking in the rearview mirror for what future church might look like. I’m all in on this synod process.
The medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan
I’m all in, but I’m not naive. If we want to hear from those who have left the Church, we need a medium that will reach them with the message that we earnestly want to hear what they have to say. My parish has developed a 6-minute survey that we are urging everyone to take: practicing Catholics, cultural Catholics, former Catholics, and everybody in between.
Here is an easy way for you to sign up to be part of the crew. I am inviting you to engage with the synod experience in a way that moves beyond the expected or the formulaic. Take the survey yourself. Then talk to family members and friends you know who have put Catholicism in their rear-view mirror, and invite them to take it as well.
It's as simple as clicking on this link bit.ly/spa-listeningsurvey. Welcome to the conversation!