By Emmanuel Akilan, SJ
A synodal Church is not just a dream of Pope Francis. It must be a dream of God and Christ, the head of the Church. Won’t they dream of a Church characterized by communion, participation, and mission?
But if this dream has to be realized, we need to understand the challenges and decide to meet them. Communion and participation require mutual listening. Listening involves patience, being open to the other, and love for the person who speaks one’s heart to the other without a tinge of fear of being judged. Therefore this is not going to be easy. What will be the major challenges?
Clericalism will be the first challenge to be faced. It is a “thorn in the flesh” of the Church. Merriam Webster defines clericalism as “a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy”. Clericalism is so deeply rooted in our structures and way of thinking that we almost cannot imagine how things could be otherwise.
In 2018, in “Letter to the People of God,” Pope Francis condemned the sin of sexual abuse of children and adolescents by the clergy. He said that this happened because of the abuse of power in the Church and linked this evil to clericalism. He said firmly, “To say no to abuse is to say an emphatic no to all forms of clericalism”. Clericalism has given rise to a lot of evils that keep tormenting the Church and shaking the very foundation of our faith.
Clericalism is so deeply rooted in our structures and way of thinking that we almost cannot imagine how things could be otherwise.
The laity must keep on encouraging their priests to free themselves from the grip of clericalism. The laity, the Religious and the clergy should ensure that this long-delayed reformation of becoming a synodal Church where clericalism has no place. This attitude of clericalism stems from one of the most dearly held value of the church, being conservative, which has lost its sheer value in this techno-driven fast changing world.
What prevents many people from doing what is needed to becoming a synodal Church is being slaves to an ideology. Their servitude to ideology makes them rigid, ultra conservative, doctrinal, and dogmatic. Jesus said that pouring old wine in the new wine skin may prove disastrous but yet a number of people cling to views and attitudes that belong to another era and no longer help us serve people today. Pope Francis has brought in a kind of revolution within the Church, yet in many parts it remains the same. Some bishops, priests and religious are still basking in the old attitudes and are unable to abandon them. They still feel reluctant to embrace the changes brought in not merely by Pope Francis but even Vatican II.
The obvious reason for this reluctance to change is insecurity, because change always comes with risks. Changes demand that we get out of our comfort zones. This is why it is easy and tempting to cling blindly to an ideology and pretend that it is done to protect the Church and safeguard one’s faith.
This is why it is easy and tempting to cling blindly to an ideology and pretend that it is done to protect the Church and safeguard one’s faith.
What may help us become a synodal Church is to train the youth who join our seminaries and novitiates to be open and flexible. They should be helped to read the signs of times and prepare themselves to serve effectively today’s and tomorrow’s generations – not the people of the past. They have to be taught to be dynamic, to think out of the box and to break the old stereotypes in their being and becoming. Instead of bombarding them with rules and regulations, and insisting that they just obey the orders of their superiors, they should be given the freedom to form themselves and even to bend a few rules and regulations for the good of the others.
Shortly after he had been elected, St. Pope John XXIII said he wanted to “open the windows” to let fresh air into a Church that stood alone and untouched by the world it had to serve. This paved the way for the the Second Vatican Council that ushered in significant changes in our Church. I feel that in the subsequent years we have closed our windows again. We have failed to see, understand and the struggles of various sections of our people.
This may be the third challenge that we face in becoming a synodal Church. We have become so obsessed with our own lives and our own power struggles that we have failed to see what happened outside the walls of our institutions – like the painful problems of Indian farmers that led to mass suicides, those of the Adivasis when they had to face the might of corporates and the apathy of the government, the sufferings of the social activists when they were falsely accused and arrested.
When we are able to join the marginalized in their struggles, then we will easily be able to listen to one another within the Church and speak to them from our hearts words that give life. When we are able to do that, our Church will be a synodal Church.
He is with us
Though the Church is facing difficult challenges in becoming synodal, there is still a ray of hope because the Church is not a man-made institution, but willed by our Lord Jesus Christ. When He is by our side, we need not worry that a synodal Church is unreachable. He will never let us down. Any challenge can be faced when we really fall in love, stay in love with Jesus Christ who strengthens, leads, guides and protects us every moment of our lives. If a synodal Church is his wish and dream, he will bless our efforts with success.
Emmanuel Akilan, SJ, (MDU) is a student of philosophy at Jnana Deepa Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Pune. Before becoming a Jesuit, he completed his B.Sc. in Hospitality and Hotel Administration.