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Number 115, October 27, 2015

The Good Enough Synod


Good, better, best; never let it rest, till the good is better and the better is best.

That's a slogan I heard somewhere on the Catholic road to now. I even felt it implemented in schools and seminaries I attended. The constant theme of our studies, spiritual direction, conduct, and emotional life reflected this insistent drive to become the best. The good was not good enough; the better was mediocre, and the best was unachievable. “You must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48) The misapplication of this one verse filled libraries with rule books, created myriads of disastrous spiritualities, destroyed the self-esteem of countless adherents, and shattered the possibility of love for anyone who tried to live this command.

Pretty dire, huh? But that is the logical consequence of that cute little slogan. If it isn't the impossible best, then it is mortally flawed.

It is valuable to recall, and then reject, this slogan as we try to figure out and evaluate the recent Synod on the Family. Just for the record and for what it's worth, I believe the synod was a modest, and hopeful, success.

But the failures are obvious. Here are two of them:

  1. By one vote, they found a narrow path for civilly divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Wow! What a breakthrough! The internal forum (an appropriate, private conversation with a priest) opens the door to Communion. There are priests who have been doing that for decades. On the other hand, given the celibate males who came to that conclusion, it is a noteworthy accomplishment.

    The bigger problems are the many divorced and remarried Catholics who will not have anything to do with the Catholic Church anymore since they have been rejected for trying to find love in their lives. They didn't leave us; we left them. We are called to evangelize but it's difficult to evangelize while we're kicking these people out.

    In terms of accepting people to our sacred meal, we don't come close to the standard my mom intuitively lived by: anyone who showed up, invited or uninvited, around lunch or dinner time, got fed. That includes my sometimes contentious, bachelor step-uncle who regularly “stopped by” around dinner time. No questions, just set another plate at the table. Why can't the Church be more like my mom? No worthiness standards; Jesus doesn't need us to protect him from a presumed sinner.

    So, to me, the “great accomplishment” of the synod for finding a skinny trail for some repentant remarried Catholics to join the Communion line at your parish church is a welcomed but awkward step in the right direction.

  2. The glaring absence of women and families as voting members of the synod reflects the absurd reality of our current hierarchical make-up. How different those earnest discussions would have been if women and families had participated as full and equal partners! This flaw, along with the liturgical visuals during the Pope's visit to the USA, makes the elimination of women so obvious that everyone notices it. It is a powerful unpaid commercial to right this clear wrong. So, keep the grassroots pressure to ordain married men and women going. Francis will need your voice to nudge the hierarchy he inherited into a more equitable and fruitful group of decision-makers.

The final report cautiously mentioned that married couples, through “consensual dialogue”, need to arrive at decisions regarding responsible parenthood. That's better than an outright condemnation of “artificial contraception” but still a long way from the reality of Catholic married life. The synod message for the LGBT community is effectively non-existent but it does encourage all of us to “learn the art of accompaniment”. Baby steps. There's still a long way to go on many fronts.

Despite these disappointing shortfalls, the synod was a necessary stage in a process to transform this huge, multinational institution into a loving, mercy-filled community of diverse people, cultures, and nations. Perhaps Francis' suggestion to regionalize the governance of the Church with more decision-making tailored to the lived situation of various localities is another next step. The encouraging thing is that, with Francis as Bishop of Rome, there will be a next step.

Was this the best possible Synod on the Family? Of course not. But, it was good enough and, like many things in life, the good is not the enemy of the best.

2015 Essays
The Good Enough Synod - Church Chat #115, October 27, 2015
What Are You Reading - Church Chat #112, August 7, 2015
Hitler - Church Chat #109, April 17, 2015
A Confirmation Problem - Church Chat #110, May 4, 2015
A Church for the Poor - Church Chat #108, April 2, 2015
Ferguson - Church Chat #107, March 16, 2015
The Big Umbrella - Church Chat #106, February 9, 2015
The Book - Church Chat #105, January 20, 2015

2014 Essays
Story versus System - Church Chat #104, April 5, 2014
Bishop Schneider's Dilemna - Church Chat #103, March 18, 2014
Bishop Schneider's Priests - Church Chat #102, February 12, 2014
Meet Bishop Schneider - Church Chat #101, January 26, 2014
Step by Step - Church Chat #100, January 7, 2014

2013 Essays
A Christmas Wish - Church Chat #99, December 23, 2013
Survey - Church Chat #97, November 16, 2013
Church and Politics - Church Chat #95, October 11, 2013
Creed, Code, Cult - Church Chat #92, August 18, 2013
Rio Repeated - Church Chat #91, July 30, 2013
The Pope Francis Fan Club - Church Chat #90, July 12, 2013
A Priest Forever - Church Chat #89, June 21, 2013
People of Good Will - Church Chat #88, May 30, 2013
Urgency - Church Chat #87, May 6, 2013
Trickledown Papacy - Church Chat #86, April 16, 2013
Selection of a Pope - Church Chat #84, March 10, 2013
If I Only Knew Then - Church Chat #82, February 4, 2013
Suicide - Church Chat #81, January 16, 2013

2012 Essays
'TIS NOT THE SEASON - Church Chat 80, December 17, 2012
Lunch - Church Chat 79, November 17, 2012
Revolution - Church Chat 78, October 29, 2012
Democracy - Church Chat 77, October 15, 2012
Religious Liberty - Church Chat 76, September 28, 2012 - Church Chat 74, August 20, 2012
Feelings - Church Chat 72, July 10, 2012
Conscience - Church Chat 71, June 16, 2012
The Butler Did Not Do It - Church Chat 70, June 2, 2012
The Vatican Catholic Church - Church Chat 69, May 17, 2012
Schism - Church Chat 67, April 25, 2012
Fear - Church Chat 67, April 16, 2012
Holy Week - Church Chat 66, April 5, 2012
Church, Inc. - Church Chat 64, March 1, 2012
Loyalty to ? - Church Chat, February 16, 2012
The New World - Church Chat #62, February 6, 2012
Big Stuff, Little Stuff - Church Chat #60, January 20, 2012

2011 Essays
Resolutions - Church Chat of December 29, 2011
New Liturgy Christmas - Church Chat of December 12, 2011
Doctrine versus Mission - Church Chat of November 25, 2011
The Diocese of Penn State - Church Chat of November 15, 2011
The Episcopal Woodshed - Church Chat of October 29, 2011
The Global South Model for All Catholicism? - Church Chat of October 18, 2011
Prophets With a Smile - Church Chat of October 4, 2011
Choices - Church Chat of September 20, 2011
There's Gotta Be More - Church Chat of September 5, 2011
Gaps - Church Chat of August 7, 2011

2010 Essays
What If It's Narcissism? - Church Chat of November 24, 2010



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