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The Best Kept Secrets in the U.S. Catholic Church
Sr. Patricia Bruno, OP
2911st Edition – November 1, 2023
The Best Kept Secrets in the U.S. Catholic Church
In the 1990s the best-kept secret in the US Catholic Church was the Church’s documents on Justice. Today in the U.S. the best kept secret, the “story seldom heard” in some Diocese, is the information concerning the Synod on Synodality.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, as well as, the publication of the final document of the October 2023 Synod session (1). This document is the map that will be used as a working document for next year’s 2024 Synod meetings. It will take a significant amount of time and hard work to carefully understand the document and what processes will be needed to continue the Synod process. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to hear what some of the theologians were reflecting on in the final days of October before the document was finalized.
The first quote is from Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP. As you know from the last SSH, he gave the October 2023 three-day retreat to the members of the Synod before the Synod began. (2) The following is part of the reflection he gave in late October to the members of the Synod. I offer Fr Timothy’s reflection hoping you might use it for your meditation. His hope and trust in the working of the Holy Spirit throughout the Synod sessions and the fruitful outcome this next year are palpable and contagious.
In a few days, we shall go home for eleven months. This will be a time of empty waiting. But it will be probably the most fertile time of the Synod, the time of germination. Jesus tells us: ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how’.
We have listened to hundreds of thousands of words during the last three weeks. Sometimes we have thought: ‘Too many!’ Most of these have been positive words, words of hope and aspiration. These are the seeds that are sown in the soil of the Church. They will be at work in our lives, in our imagination and our subconscious, during these months. When the moment is right, they will bear fruit.
The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
Despite all the farmer’s work and worry,
He can’t reach down to where the seed is slowly
‘Transmuted into summer’. The earth bestows. (3)
Then he continued:
These eleven months will be like a pregnancy…So this is a time of quiet pregnancy…
This is a time of active waiting. Let me repeat the words of Simone Weil I quoted during the retreat. “We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them…This way of looking is, in the first place, attentive. The soul empties itself of all its contents to receive the human being it is looking at, just as he or she is, in all their truth.”
This is profoundly countercultural. The global culture of our time is often polarized, aggressive, and dismissive of other people’s views. The cry is: Whose side are you on? When we go home, people will ask, ‘Did you fight for our side? Did you oppose those unenlightened other people?’ We shall need to be profoundly prayerful to resist the temptation to succumb to this party-political way of thinking. That would be to fall back into the sterile, barren language of much of our society. It is not the synodal way.
The synodal process is organic and ecological rather than competitive. It is more like planting a tree than winning a battle, and as such will be hard for many to understand, sometimes including ourselves!
The next quote comes from Fr Ormond Rush from Australia. It is part of his synthesis report during the last week of the October Synod meeting. He is speaking to the members of the Synod. He reminds them and us the first Synod, as noted in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 15, was the Council in Jerusalem. The issue at hand was whether or not the Gentiles had to follow the Law of Moses and be circumcised. It was a heated discussion because it was “an issue on which Jesus himself had left no specific directions. They and the Holy Spirit together had to come to a new adaptation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ regarding that new question, which had not been envisaged before.”
Fr Rush continued by reminding those present that Vatican II urged the church to be attentive to “the signs of the times” in the light of the living Gospel.
Discernment of the signs of the times in the present seeks to determine what God is urging us to see – with the eyes of Jesus – in new times; but this also urges us to be attentive to the traps – where we could be being drawn into ways of thinking that are not “of God.” These traps could lie and be anchored exclusively in the past, or exclusively in the present, or not being open to the future fullness of divine truths, to which the Spirit of Truth is leading the church. Discerning the difference between opportunities and traps is the task of all the faithful — laity, bishops, and theologians — everyone as Gaudium et Spes #44 teaches….
During this most important time of the Synod on Synodality all of the laity, clergy, religious women, and men who participated in the multiple aspects of the Synod sessions have been remembered in our daily prayers in our Dominican Community in San Rafael. We are grateful for the sacrifices of those who have participated. We anticipate with hope the results of the most recent sessions of the Synod that will be published today – November 1, All Saints Day. We are filled with gratitude to be able to participate in this most extraordinary church event. Our prayers and participation will enthusiastically continue. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide our hope-filled Church in the coming days.
1. The August and October 2023, Stories Seldom Heard have more information concerning the Synod.
2. Future Church, SynodWatch RoundUp, blog by Deb Rose, October 23, 2023
3. Rainer Marie Rilke, The Sonnets to Orpheus XII’, in Selected Poems with Parallel German Text, trans. Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland (Oxford, 2011), p.195