I don’t think it’s too dramatic to suggest that the Church is at a crossroads!
In recent days debate is growing around the submission of the Irish Church to Pope Francis with regard to the Synod. Some people are delighted that the thirty or so pages did not suffer heavy editing or dilution whilst others struggle to accept, or own, much of the substance of it. If you haven’t read it I would encourage you to do so. It is available on the diocesan website. If you have difficulty accessing it please leave your details with the parish office and we will be sure to get a copy to you.
The main thrust of the submission is around inclusion. It makes reference to major topics such as women priests, married clergy, optional celibacy and LGBTQI issues. These subjects engender passionate responses. It is against this background and indeed the wider canvas of falling practice and the absence of vocations, that I offer my contention that we, the Church, have arrived at a crossroads.
Arguably when we reach a crossroads we have four options: make a u turn, go left, right or straight ahead.
There are those who suggest, with various degrees of credibility, that we need to get back to the Church of yesteryear. I can understand this. The reality is that the Church of our parents and grandparents had within it much to admire. The actual beauty of the Church is often lost in the dominance of a selective media which whilst having done us all some service, has little interest in exploring the healthier and life giving aspects of belonging to a faith community. The extraordinary dedication of thousands women and men who led lives of service is often overshadowed with the story, albeit a true story, of dysfunctionality and the ensuing legacy of untold damage done. Therefore even this first option, that of going back, quickly leads to division and acrimony. Many see the past as a wonderful place that we need to get back or at least seek to emulate. Others are horrified at the very notion. For me, I firmly believe there is no going back. Even if we wanted to, it’s not possible to go back. In fact that place, we easily refer to as the past, is gone.
The idea of turning left or right becomes particularly interesting when we consider how loaded the words left and right are, even in themselves. Whilst they tend to find their home in the political world they have of course found their way into our discussions around Church. Are you a liberal, a progressive or a conservative, a traditionalist? Are you left wing? Or right wing? People love labels. There’s something attractive and neat about being able to box someone. I suppose we all know someone, be they lay or cleric, whom we might see as leaning to the left or right. I feel the very worrying aspect of this type of conversation is that it contains the seeds of disharmony. In fact I believe the imminent danger for us as Church is that of fragmentation and indeed disunity.
In offering the analysis that we are at a crossroads I would like to propose that the way ahead is just that, straight ahead. My sense is that going back is not possible and that the left or right whilst they contain attractive aspects, they are both, by definition, divisive, and lead me to the conclusion that we need to opt for the path ahead. What might this mean?
To me the path ahead is to journey deeper into the Cross. Deeper into the Paschal Mystery. Deeper into darkness, before the prevailing light. To me our arrival at the crossroads is our opportunity to cooperate with God’s Grace effecting our conversion into a new life in the Spirit. We need to rediscover Jesus. To refocus on him. To me the ultimate reform, the ultimate renewal is to acknowledge that when it comes to having a unique personal and dynamic relationship with Jesus, we are in truth only scratching the surface.
So, yes, I think we are at a crossroads. I think it is time to invite everyone, without exception, into the Church, to make all welcome without caveat or condition. Then, when all are in, and all feel welcome, then we can have the new experience of listening deeply to each other, without judgment or conditionality, and come to know each other as sisters and brothers of Jesus for the first time.
Fraternally, JoeMcD 01.09.22