Synodality in the polarised world
Not forgetting the fundamentals uniting us.
Polarization is one of the trends of the contemporary world. Sadly, it’s not limited to few countries, but in many countries and groups around the world. The division of people belonging to one country or religion into different groups is a normal thing, but when the division reaches to such a display of hatred for the other, it can lead to serious problems. The consequences can be so varied in different groups. When polarization peeks, some groups, especially minorities (unless they are powerful) or vulnerable sections are badly affected. There are always questions which of these minorities have a legitimate right to be included and which to be excluded (called enemies, non-followers, anti-group etc). For some people, these exclusions don’t make sense, for others it is absolutely essential. Being part of the world, Catholic church is equally affected by the trend of polarization.
This statement from Pope Francis expresses the central thrust of synodality. Synodal church is a called a church walking with all, listening to all and welcoming all. Now all these words are understood slightly differently by different people. Synodality and inclusion also can be looked in the context of polarization. There are two significant articles on inclusion written in the context of synodality in the church.
The first is by Cardinal Robert McElroy, who speaks about the question of inclusivity, especially when it comes to woman, children, youth, LGBTQIA+ persons etc. He said in another article that the purpose of synod is not to create any new document, but an ongoing process of renewal and reform at all levels of the church.
“the wounds of the church are intimately connected to those of the world.” Our political society has been poisoned by a tribalism that is sapping our energy as a people and endangering our democracy. And that poison has entered destructively into the life of the church. (Article of Cardinal)
Such a culture can help to relativize these divisions and ideological prisms by emphasizing the call of God to seek first and foremost the pathway that we are being called to in unity and grace. A synodal culture demands listening, a listening that seeks not to convince but to understand the experiences and values of others that have led them to this moment. A synodal culture of true encounter demands that we see in our sisters and brothers common pilgrims on the journey of life, not opponents. We must move from Babel to Pentecost. (Article of Cardinal)
The second is by Bishop Robert Barron , who when appreciates the terms as inclusivity and welcoming is more keen on having a precise definition for inclusivity. Or he is not happy with the ambiguity surrounding that term. (I don’t think this ambiguity is a problem, though that is a discussion for another time).
In a word, there is a remarkable balance in the pastoral outreach of Jesus between welcome and challenge, between outreach and a call to change. This is why I would characterize his approach not simply as “inclusive” or “welcoming,” but rather as loving. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that to love is “to will the good of the other.” (article of Bishop)
When we see some differences in their articulations and understanding, it is important to emphasize the fundamental unity underlying both of them; both want to understand how Jesus would have done, which they understand based on their own perspectives.
In another interview, the presenter asks Cardinal McElroy on what he thinks of the comment of Cardinal Pell (that is attributed to him, not fully sure that whether he really wrote that letter) that Pope Francis’ papacy is a disaster. McElroy never answers that question, but says something quiet powerful. We forget the unity that existed between Pope Francis and Cardinal Pell on the fundamentals on Christianity (which is life, death and resurrection of Jesus). Or forgetting the factors that unify us (or completely making them insignificant) is a tragedy of the polarized world.
Does it mean that differences don’t exist? Does it mean that differences are irrelevant? Does it mean differences can be brushed aside under the carpet? No is the aswer for all the questions. But when we focus on differences, forgetting the uniting factors, we are doing a certain injustice. Injustice becomes more severe when we understand that unity is on fundamental factors. I will end this piece by sharing of small anecdote shared by my novice master about 2 Jesuits, which could be a good model, even for synodal conversations.
Both of them were influential members with strong opinions. They were good friends too. There was a meeting, where both of them fought tooth and nail. During the tea break, they could drink tea together and crack jokes. But once they are back at the sessions, the arguments continued.
We can be passionate about things, but passion needn't create polarization, but can create arguments, debates before arriving at a polyphony, which is a creative outcome of passionate encounters.