By Fran Lavelle
I was just at a regional conference where I spoke on the process moving forward from the Synod on Synodality. One of my friends asked me how it went. After a moment of reflection, I replied “not good.” She asked why I felt that it was not good. My response surprised even me. I truly feel like people are not ready to do the work that is required to achieve the things we say we want.
In our Synod listening we heard over and over the need for unity and healing. So much so that unity and healing is first among the issues we listed in our synthesis. However, when one addresses what unity and healing might look like in our post-pandemic church the enthusiasm for said unity wanes. The same holds true for taking politics out of the church. We heard repeatedly that politics should be removed from the pulpit. However, what many people really want to remove is the partisan politics of the party they oppose. Apparently, we are more than OK with hearing political rhetoric, as long as it aligns with our own perspective. Here’s the kicker, the teachings of the Catholic Church do not fully align with either conservative or liberal politics. That’s where Catholic Social Teaching comes into play.
“Catholic social teaching proposes a set of principles [Human Dignity, Solidarity, Subsidiarity] on which to form our conscience and then act in society. Because every life has value and is sacred, it should be protected by society. The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity mean people must participate in society.
To what end?
To provide criteria for forming our cultural, economic and political positions – based on the principles of Catholic social teaching and for the Common Good. The lessons of Catholic social teaching are always relevant. They provide guidance on how individuals can be better citizens. These lessons also guide social institutions in creating environments in which all can prosper (i.e., promote the common good).” – Catholic Social Teaching in Action
Speaking of partisan politics – both sides often fail to implement Catholic social teaching through their lives. And both run the risk of forgetting a key message of Catholic social teaching: “It is clear that no economic, social or political project can replace the gift of self to another … He who does not give God gives too little.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Clearly, we cannot cherry pick when to act and advocate for human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity. Seeing the bigger picture calls us to greater accountability. For example, if one professes to be pro-life, that extends to ending the death penalty as much as ending abortion. Sometimes we do not see the inconsistencies in our thinking until we look at the big picture. Catholic Social Teaching allows us to see the bigger picture.
On the question of healing there were several areas identified that require reconciliation and healing. Chief among them were racism, annulments/marriage issues, LGBTQ and the sexual abuse crisis that still plagues the faithful. Out of the issues identified there is little if any leadership within the larger church to support meaningful healing.
If the Body of Christ that is the church is waiting for someone or something to come along that will advance healing in these important areas, we will be waiting for some time. If you see something, say something. If you say something, be willing to do something. How can you facilitate conversations and each out to those who feel rejected or invisible in the church? Supporting one another, no matter how difficult our journey, is the first step in promoting healing, reconciliation and unity.
The other major issues coming from our Synod listening involve catechesis and formation of children, youth and adults. All are worthy endeavors. All are important. All are attainable and achievable. Here’s the kicker, if we want better faith formation it will require that we as individual members of our faith community step up and do something. Perhaps everyone is not called to teach, but there are many ways we can support better catechesis and formation. As Catholics we often fail to invest in the young church. Every parish needs to have a budget for religious education and formation that extends from baptism through adult ed. Every parish should have a budget for youth ministry. An investment in the youth today will pay dividends today and far into the future.
Last but not least, was a call for formation opportunities for the laity. Jesus did not come to form the disciples to keep the work of the Gospel to themselves. Their commission was to go out and make disciples. Everyone has the responsibility to be a disciple. There are many formation opportunities available in the diocese to help you grow as a disciple. No matter what stage or what age, the offices of the Department of Faith Formation are here to help you produce great fruit from our synodal listening. We are only a phone call or email away.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson. She can be reached at email@example.com.)