At the Synod of the Family, the Church is hoping she can help usher in a renewal of interest in the family, and through that, renewal of the Church. We’ve heard a lot of calls for renewal over the last 50 years. We have heard them from popes, cardinals, theologians, priests, and your average Catholic on the street. Everyone is interested in renewal.
Yet if we are honest with ourselves, these calls for renewal have (at least here at home) not translated into robust growth. Why? With so many people of goodwill working for renewal, why are fleeting results the best we can accomplish? I think there is one missing ingredient, and that is covered in the propers for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. That ingredient is our own culpability in the current state of affairs.
The problems impacting the Church are not primarily the result of outside forces, or the secular culture “persecuting” us. At least here in the West, the situation we find ourselves in is one of largely our own making. The Introit makes clear that all that is happening to us is happening justly, because of choices we make. When the writer acknowledges their sins and guilt, he also praises those who walk “undefiled” in God’s law. We are reminded of the choice in Deuteronomy: life and death, blessing and curse. What path have we chosen?
I do not say this solely as some critique of “The Vatican”, some nameless, faceless authority figure thousands of miles away in Rome. I say look at our own parishes and our own dioceses. How much is the family emphasized? What tools do Churches provide for parents to raise their kids in the faith? For those who have trouble reaching the Church, how often do we reach out to them? The problems facing the family are more than just the problems facing the culture war. Are we conveying a basic understanding of that message?
All of the propers of this Sunday’s Mass emphasize our culpability and responsibility for sin in one aspect for another. Yet they also make clear this is not the only choice we can make. When we bless those who walk undefiled, we acknowledge that we are different than they are. They made the choice to follow God. We made the choice to follow man. In the Epistle, we are the unwise drunk on the luxuries of this world, but there are also those who walk in the wisdom of the Spirit.
I would say this is how we need to approach true renewal. That true renewal requires acknowledging our own sins and our own responsibility for the current crisis in the Church. This responsibility extends from the Pope himself right down to us. Once we’ve acknowledged those sins, we then acknowledge the holiness of the saints. Not just those saints from 2,000 years ago. There are saints walking in our midst, who are able to do the things we either cannot or will not do. We know they exist. If we are lucky, we even know a few of them! We then profess to God we want to be like those saints.
If Sunday’s Mass strikes a tone of bleakness, the propers make clear that God wants to heal us. In the Gospel, the believing man’s son is saved from death. While it might appear Christ at first rebukes the guy for asking, one need not read it this way. Yes, in a perfect world, where all have perfect faith, signs and wonders would not be necessary. We should remember that. Holy as we are, we still want signs and wonders.
Yet Christ does not make the perfect the enemy of the good. People’s faith is not perfect because they are suffering, and Christ wants to heal that suffering. He heals the son to give the father hope. When we approach Christ, when we tell him “lord, I wish I was like the saints, but I’m not, I need your help”, he will help us.
Imagine if the Synod began with a realization that everyone in that room has contributed to the situation the Church finds itself in with regard to the family? Imagine if they asked us to acknowledge our sins as well? Imagine if, after we all acknowledged our sins, we placed ourselves at God’s mercy, opening ourselves to the Spirit?
I know this is hard, and I know its certainly not comfortable. Nobody wants to acknowledge that their bright ideas failed, and that failure had damage. Hard as this may be, do we not do this at every Mass we are at? Whether Ordinary or Extraordinary Form, East or West, is there not a place in the beginning of Mass where our sins are explicitly acknowledged? Do we not praise the blessed, and ask to be placed firmly at God’s mercy? This is not only how saints are made, it is how saints solve problems.
As this Synod goes on, a lot of faithful Catholics are worried. Even if they feel the Church will, in the end, do the right thing at this Synod, they are afraid of what will happen in the meantime. Some have even despaired, thinking that this will be the place where apostasy reigns supreme. I doubt I can persuade you to think one way or the other, but consider this: what role have you played in this crisis? How have your shortcomings helped us get to where we are? How can you change? Everybody at the Synod will have to make an account before God with the same questions asked of them. Whether or not they decide rightly or wrongly, we still have a choice to make. We can still choose relying on God, acknowledging our sins, asking for his blessing, and changing our lives. If all Catholics did this, the Synod’s final report could be mailed out on a postcard.