By Patrick Schmadeke
When we set out to complete a task, we like to have clear guidelines about what to do, why to do it and what will happen when it’s done. We like clarity when it comes to cause and effect and for good reason — we don’t want our efforts and time to go to waste. When the rubber meets the road, what will happen next? What will change?
The Synod has met with confusion on the part of many. I’ve been asking friends in ministry around the country what they’ve heard about the Synod. Most respond with a sense of curiosity and some with hope. Almost all wonder, what will happen next? What will change? Why are we doing this?
The notion of a Synod on Synodality might strike our Midwestern sensibilities as confusing, strange or pointless. I wish to address this head-on. The genius of the Synod is not that it tells us to complete tasks X, Y and Z (though it does give plenty of tasks to complete!). Rather, the genius of the Synod is that it gives us the tools to reflect and act upon our concrete and local experiences. To borrow from Vatican II, it gives us the tools to reflect and act on the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel. It gives us lenses to see our experience with eyes that will arrive at richer understandings and decisions.
Those lenses are in the subtitle of the Synod: communion, participation and mission. I wonder what our faith communities would look like if the words communion, participation and mission rolled off our tongues. What if synodality became second nature? What might change in us if the themes of the Synod reigned in our hearts?
If communion reigned in our hearts, we would recognize that our unity is rooted in the radical love and unity of the Trinity. We would recognize our core identity as sons and daughters of the living God. We would not think of others and ourselves firstly or merely as independents, Democrats or Republicans, as liberal or conservative or charismatic Catholic. We would not think of others and ourselves first as American or non-American. There would be no us-vs.-them dynamic. All separateness and distance dissolves in the radical love and unity of the Trinity.
If participation reigned in our hearts, we would look to Jesus’ model of participation. Worldly models of participation are constituted by power — those with power and those without it. Jesus’ model of participation is incompatible with this. Jesus was open to and proactive in reaching the widest possible audience. Jesus stood at the margins of his time and named the dignity of those pushed to the margins. We must do the same.
If mission reigned in our hearts, we would recognize the centrality of evangelization in our identity as Christians. Pope Paul VI was the first to articulate it in the post-Vatican II era and Pope Francis has echoed it in the Synod documents: “The Church exists to evangelize. We can never be centered on ourselves.” We are to be the light of Christ everywhere we go.
This is just the beginning. When communion, participation and mission reign in each of our hearts, we reveal the light of Christ ever more in each of our identities, and we more fully discover the person God is calling us to be. The themes of the Synod take on new possibilities as the Holy Spirit leads us individually and communally.
With the lenses of the Synod in mind, I would like to point out the fundamental shortcoming of prioritizing our concrete and finite expectations over and against open-ended reflection. We inevitably suffocate what might have been. As Pope Francis has beautifully expressed, “the protagonist of the Synod is the Holy Spirit.” Wherever pragmatism is treated as the greatest of virtues, little room is left for wonder and awe, and the beckoning of the Holy Spirit. We should not lose sight of pragmatic questions, but they should in no way limit our discernment.
(Patrick Schmadeke is Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Davenport.)