Synodalia: Have you noticed what’s missing?

One thing sadly, disastrously, absent from the Synod from the scanty information we have been permitted to receive, is eternity. We look to the woefully deficient Relatio, or working document, that was so unwisely released (perhaps as a belated gesture of transparency and consultation). In its opening paragraphs it seeks to set the synodal discussions in a context, and that context is purely this-worldly. It is as if it is only this life, this world, that truly matters. The focus is entirely socio-anthropological. The closest it comes to moving our eyes away from our navels is the exhortation to have our “gaze on Christ” (#4, et infra). Yet this phrase is never adequately unpacked, except that we look to Christ for teaching on marriage.


As Archbishop Sheen was so fond of reminding us, Christ came to die. That was his mission: that by the self-sacrificial death on the Cross of his mortal human body we might share in his divine life for eternity. Christ made a condition of following him that we deny ourselves and take up our cross to share in the eternal fruit of his Cross. So intent was his own gaze on eternity that he admitted that following him would divide families, setting one against another. His moral teaching was oriented toward a full identification with him in every aspect of our lives and our dealing with others. He commanded us to love, yes; but then taught us that love is essentially and necessarily selfless, its summit found in laying down one’s life for another. As Christ did for us. We know not that day nor the hour. Live, he bids us, so that you are ready for death and judgment.

What the Relatio calls the “Gospel of the family” can only make sense if it is related to the core gospel of Christ. Family, marriage and sexuality for a Christian must serve eternity and help prepare us for it. Yet the Relatio seems intent on trying to make things as easy as possible in this life for people who do not follow the core Gospel of Christ. If eating and drinking unworthily of the Eucharist brings dire judgment upon us (1 Cor 11:29), and if unworthily has always been defined as labouring under grave, unremitted, sin, then how can granting those in grave sin the Eucharist be helpful to them? Only if our focus is not on eternity, but on here and now, feeling accepted, included and the like. Nowhere in the Relatio do we hear the fundamental gospel proclamation: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The temporal, secular focus of this document is lamentable. We see now through a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Surely the Synod needs to be reminding the Church that what we experience and feel now is no guide to anything but the nature and degree of our need for God and his truth. The answer, then, is to satisfy this need for God and his truth by focusing on that which he has definitely revealed to us through scripture and the timeless teaching of the Church.

The bottom line of Christianity is that it is to prepare us for death and eternity, the last things that are so starkly absent from the Relatio. There is comfort in the knowledge that the Relatio is only a “working document”; but if it is representative of the Synod’s work, they have been wasting a great deal of time and money. It has no binding force whatsoever. It should, must, be ignored.

Instead, for now let us live well as the Church has always taught us in fidelity to Christ, with our eyes set in hope on death, and eternity.

13 thoughts on “Synodalia: Have you noticed what’s missing?

  1. Once again Father, you are so intuitive with your observations and with the decimation of information from a most “clandestine” sort of event—not that a synod is clandestine but the proceeding are anything but clear as they are clouded in a rather secretive veil with the odd “seeping” of key information –bread crumbs of such for the curious and casual observers—sounds so intriguing, but I don’t mean to sound the conspiracy alarms by any means 🙂
    I just find it odd that key bits and pieces filter out and as you so keenly observe, these tidbits have everything to do with the worldly life and very little to do with the Spiritual.
    As you say, Christ himself said, that to follow him will bring worldly division. It’s as if we, me included, don’t truly grasp the full gravity of claiming Jesus as true Lord and Savior. We prefer to keep one foot in the world with the other one precariously out there somewhere in the Spiritual. The cost to follow is growing exponentially it seems with the times—those of us who like our comfortable lives are finding that comfort is being compromised to the point of making, dare I day it, hard hard choices—-there is to be no turning back once one says “yes” for to do so is but death. . .
    Thank you Father for helping to shine a light on the often dark and confusing path!!
    A big hug—Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you yet again Julie!

      Actually, there are some quasi-conspiracy theories emerging which are not always so silly. Thus many have pointed out that the 6000-word Relatio was produced in a day – an amazing feat, so amazing, some say, that it must have been written beforehand. As if to enhance the doubt, the Relatio spends a lot of time on homosexuality, yet even Fr Lombardi (the official Vatican spokesman) said that only one bishop spoke on the topic. Cardinals Napier, Burke and Mueller are voicing concerns suggesting that what happens in the synod hall is not what is making it to the official summaries. Cardinal Erdö pretty much accused Arhcbishop Forte of creative writing at the press conference…

      Conspiracy theories must occasionally be right!


      1. Father here’s a rather frightening story… just when you thought you’d heard it all…I caught this story today coming out of Houston, Texas.
        A scary and sad story regarding how a secular world is ‘bullying” the followers of Christ–attempting to force the Houston area pastors to yield to the way of the secular acceptance of lifestyles that run counter to the Word of God— attempting to silence what I thought was both a freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. . .hummm


      2. Yes, I read about this. A homosexual mayoress wants to vet pastors’ sermons on homosexuality. Putin would be proud! But you have a Constitution, Julie, and I cannot see the courts allowing her to act this way. The pastors should just tell her where to go (the confessional, of course!).



      3. Too true—-our constitutions seems to be pushed to the limits lately on a daily basis–every special interest group wants to bend, amend, abolish those parts which don’t fit “their” current agendas—when I read that story I could only think of the church during the rise of power of the Nazi party in Germany when the churches were “given” the option of becoming the church of the State—-oh how the pendulums swing—
        I think I’ve caught you “cold” but mine is more sinuses and inner ears—ugh
        Blessings and a hug—Julie


  2. Father Hugh, I read your latest blog with interest. In particular your obvious and deep concern that the apparent work of the Synod (or at least what we know of it from the Relatio) is likely to lead people away from the gospel and away from the “timeless teaching of the Church.”

    As I read that phrase I began to wonder whether the Church’s teaching has ever been timeless in the sense of being static. Has it not been a slow and often painful evolution of looking through a glass darkly and trying to glimpse something of what and who God is and what he wants for and asks of us?

    There are the obvious examples of this development in the Church’s attitude to slavery and the gradual change and development of a relationship with the Jewish community, once villified and now thankfully embraced and respected.

    Is there not also a way of seeing the whole of scripture as a slow movement towards God. Again often painful in what we are added to accept and give up, but always moving us towards an ever deeper understanding of the nature of this Yahweh God who covenanted with us and our forefathers again and again and again? Even in the face of our frailty, failures and fragility and our inability to hold up our side of the deal. In His willingness to send his Son to die for our sins doesn’t he show us that side of himself which is able to love us despite our own collective and personal inadequacies? And in that way to declare to us that He is God and not man, as Hosea renders it.

    I guess where all this leads me is to this place – I don’t know whether God wants to exclude divorced people, or remarried people or gay people from the central life of the Church in Holy Communion. But the God I discover, in the Scriptures and in the Creed is bigger and more generative, more complex and more perfect than any of the barriers and limits that we can put around him. God, I think, can take care of himself, and he seems to be able to go on loving us and reaching out to us whether we get it right or wrong, whether that is over slavery, or the Jews or divorcees or gays or any other group or issue over which we can divide.

    To erect barriers around God and the Church is to necessarily exclude people. But if the God that we know reallly is interested in sending out invitations to those who were not initially invited to the feast, then I wonder if we don’t just have to trust the Holy Spirit to move the Synod in a direction that takes down barriers rather than keeping them up. After all, if the work of the Church is to prepare people for “death and eternity” – then knowing my own limitations and sins – I hope and pray that the Table is open and the banquet is for everyone. Otherwise I fear for us all, married, unmarried, ordained or divorced.

    Michael Walzer wrote this in his book on the Exodus: “Pharaonic oppression, deliverance, Sinai, and Canaan are still with us, powerful memories shaping our perceptions of the political world. The “door of hope” is still open; things are not what they might be – even when what they might be isn’t totally different from what they are. We still believe, or many of us do, what the Exodus first taught, or what it has commonly been taken to teach, about the meaning and possibility of politics and about its proper form:
     first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt;
     second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land;
     and third, that “the way to the land is through the wilderness.”
    There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”

    It is an interesting exercise to take out the word politics and insert the word Church. I wonder if the Church hasn’t too often opted for Pharonic Oppression as the safer and easier course, when what we are called to do is to join together and march through the wilderness.

    It may take many attempts and many formulations and many wrong turns to get to the Promised Land, but at least we will be together. I hope that is what the Synod is asking the Church to do, and if it is, it will have been invaluable.


    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply Patrick. There is much I agree with, but many of your conclusions I do not.

      No, I do not equate “timeless” with “static” and never have. No thinking theologian ever has. Timelessness refers to the origin of such teachings in scripture and in the substantial consistency of the Church’s doctrine. We evolve in knowledge of God; God’s truth does not evolve, much as God does not evolve: God is. The old chestnut about slavery is not convincing when one delves into the matter. The Church never advocated slavery, it tolerated it and always advocated just treatment of slaves as of anyone. It distinguished between just and unjust servitude, and this was part of its dealing with the socio-political context of its day. There was no change from the Church saying slavery is fine. Let’s leave that one behind.

      The issue is not whether “God wants to exclude divorced people , or remarried people or gay people from the central life of the Church in Holy Communion”. Christ gave the Church power to bind and loose. There is no way of knowing God’s will apart from this. God does not exlcude, but I am afraid he makes demands and has expectations. He expects us not to sin and to repent from sin. By mortal sin we exclude ourselves from communion with God, not He from us. The Church cannot repent for us. The grave sinner must repent for him-, or her-, self. That is part of Christian freedom. It is not part of Christian freedom for the Church to turn a blind eye and manifest indifference. That is not pastoral. Indeed, given st Paul’s clear teaching, dogmatic teaching, to admit f=grave sinners to Communion is to give them spiritual poison.

      Exlcusion from the Eucharist due to mortal sin is always self-exclusion. It is no good blaming the Church for the consequences of our sin. Such sinners are still within the life of the Church; they are not generally excommunicated (except in some cases). As I argued in another post, the deeper issue is about those privately in mortal sin receiving the Eucharist. They too eat and drink judgment on themselves. It is ironic perhaps that the more public sins of divorce and remarriage allow the Church to prevent those who have not repented of them to harm themselves further.

      Holy Communion is not a sacrament of social, communal inclusion. Nor is it a reward for the perfect (if there be any!). Rather it is the vehicle of grace for those able to receive it, those already in real communion with Christ’s Body the Church; it is food for eternal life first and above all, not a mere symbol of exterior belonging. If so, it would be an empty symbol indeed if the interior belonging was absent.

      So any “barriers” erected are erected by the sinner, and the sinner must take responsibility for the sin and the free choice it involved. The Church is not here to make sinners feel better, but to be better, and that must always involve the duty to repent.

      The “door of hope” is always open. No church bars its doors to stop mortal sinners from entering and attending Mass. They can receive blessings. They can make spiritual communions. They can pray and be prayed for. And they can hear the preaching of the gospel which, we pray, will bring them to repent. I suggest you read Louise Mensch’s article: she is divorced and remarried and weekly attends Mass, but will not approach for Communion because she respects the Church’s teaching and the logic behind it. That is real humility. She is not blaming the Church for her own decisions.



      1. Hello, I’m not sure Louise Mensch’s article is quite right to guide people to read. Though she very clearly demonstrates her understanding of the matter, she chooses to remain through an act of will in a sinful situation that prevents her from receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Sadly, she goes up to the priest during Communion for a blessing showing her children that adulteresses can be blessed for their sinning. When will Ms Mensch commence the road to conversion?


      2. That, indeed, is a question Ms Mensch needs to address. For now we can give her credit for facing up to the spiritual and ecclesial consequences of her situation. We can hope, too, that her children see not the blessing of an adulteress (for I doubt that category would even cross their minds) but a Church that does not reject the sinner even it can never approve all that we do.

        But, I take your point on the matter of blessings. These blessings at Communion are a modern fad and I am becoming less and less comfortable with it. What more does it give that the blessing at the end of Mass does not? It is just a pale parallel of Communion as a symbol of social inclusion, and in both cases it does violence to the essential reality and meaning.



  3. Worry not! I do not believe for one minute that this Relatio is an accurate report of all and everything that has been said during the Synod thus far. Pressure groups will always try to hijack such proceedings to promote their own interests. We only need to concern ourselves with the final post-synodal exhortation issued by the Holy Father. We must surely hope and believe that he would not, indeed could not, issue a document that could easily have been written by any social welfare body, confessing no Christian creed.

    What is perhaps more worrying in the famous ‘spirit of the synod’, which could end up taking precedence over the final text (as happened with much of Vatican II).


    1. Well, I’ve said elsewhere that the opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings. The only document we need to notice is the encyclical/apostolic exhortation that is the final product of the Synod. But the confusion in the meantime is pure scandal.

      Having let this “spirit” of the bottle, it is going to be very hard to get it back in. But we must.



  4. I think Patrick raises some really good points which I don’t feel have been given full consideration. Sometimes when I read words holding people to a ‘hard truth’ I feel the compassion, love, mercy and tenderness of God are easily overlooked. We speak of theology as if it contained certainties and insights which are absolute and immutable (I know some people will respond with truth being eternal and timeless!) but if we receive more and more revelation might that not better inform our understanding or perhaps when we manage to deepen our existing understanding of whats already been revealed.
    God is unknowable, – at least that was one of the fundamentals of my Catholic education so it seems to me that any or even all theology in as much as it tries to understand and explain our understanding of God is at best an honest, brave attempt to explain the inexplicable. So I struggle when people not only offer but impose certainties and dogmas which it seems to me are often used to justify judging, condemning and excluding people. Thank God we are on the inside of Church teaching and not outside with the outcasts and the lepers. For shame.
    I choose to trust God and I believe God has placed His trust in me. A trust that allows me with His help, to struggle in developing a real and meaningful personal relationship. He knows I am not perfect neither in my intentions or actions but I believe He values my human integrity with all its faults and I believe that is the same for most individuals struggling to develop and live a spiritual life. Some of the stuff I’ve been reading runs the risk of denying and undermining these inner lives by focusing on the external. We tick all the boxes on Catholic teaching – hetrosexual of course, married only once if our husband/wife is still alive, non sexual ideally, remarried but not having sexual relations – as if any or all of these things define any one of us completely. But thank God, God sees us completely and I trust He wants to meet me in the most intimate way by means of the Eucharist.
    So it seems to me that anyone including the Church, who takes on themselves the duty of guarding and protecting the Eucharist by denying anyone access to it on the basis that they are not good enough (which is effectively what is being said) is running the risk of condemning themselves. Who is good enough, even after a good confession?
    I’m not sure God is going to judge me on the basis on how good a rule observing Catholic I was, how much theology I understood or whether I had sex when I shouldn’t have had or whether I and sexual relations with a man or a woman, or whether I receive the Holy Eucharist when perhaps I shouldn’t have had, BUT. how have I loved? Not the intellectual heady theology type love, but the real mccoy, no holding back, unrestrained, passionate unconditional love – just the way God loves us.

    And that’s the really scary bit.


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