This is the third in a series on trustworthiness as the fertile soil in which synodality can take root. And my position is this: if you don’t address trustworthiness, you can’t “journey” together on the road to heaven because there is no “we.” “We” emerges from trustworthiness in our relationships.
I’ve had this theory for a while…so let me share it with you because it has to do with this lack of trustworthiness in the Church as a whole, and in my experiences of the parish. Here’s the theory: there’s too little Jesus. If we had more
Jesus-at-the-center, there’d be trustworthiness because we would all believe we first and foremost look to Him to blaze the trail and then guide us on it.
In the last blog I revealed my penchant for asking hard questions. It continues here. Look around you in your nuclear family of baptized believers, your parish family, the collection of even more baptized believers, and your diocese. Think about your interactions in each of these places. The first litmus test: how often outside of formal prayer, does Jesus’ way, will or work come up? How often do you as an individual or you as a group look to Jesus’ way, revealed in the Scripture and further elucidated in the teachings of the Church, as the common ground from which all else flows? And I don't mean sort of a background, kind of assumed "Of course we care what Jesus says" posture. I'm talking about deliberately consulting Jesus, through the Spirit.
Here are some common experiences I’ve had in working with parishes that have led me to believe this is a very important HARD question:
1. Meetings/gatherings where reminding ourselves of who we are and Whose we are is done rapidly, rotely and without any real re-connection. I call it “Zipper prayer”…a quick zip in the beginning and the end and then we can get to the “real work.”
2. Comments like “I didn’t join this group to pray.” Or “I resent/object to using our time together in prayer, Scripture and reading documents. Don’t we have more important work to do than that?” “If this is how this will be run, I’m out.” And from a Bishop, in my hearing…”Don’t waste my time with all that praying jazz.”
3. Decisions that, not grounded in Scripture or Tradition, are also not informed by other knowledge streams that are gifts from God given for our use. God gives the researchers, social scientists, philosophers, writers, artists, teachers and prophets to us to help make decisions. Ignoring them is to ignore a potential Spirit voice. Ignoring the Deposit of Faith and these other sources means decisions aren't reliable, and reliability is part of trustworthiness.
4. "Majority rules" voting in decision-making, that does not ever take into account the potential prophetic presence of a lone voice or two, the call of Jesus to stand over/against prevailing sentiments a lot of the time, and the humility to make room in the decision to change it.
Followers of Jesus in service to his Body the Church have to do their work differently because Jesus is at the helm. The Church belongs to Him. He is its Head. That means a LOT of time spent listening to Jesus’ way, will and wants. And how do we do that?
Deliberately, daily, individually
Deliberately and devotedly in community
Persistently, until we see with Jesus’ eyes, and have put on his mind
Humbly because we are all on the journey, taking logs out of our eyes, learning to see from where others stand, and being aware that we will get it wrong.
Here are a few questions to ask after a decision has been made and BEFORE it’s shared, if Jesus is at the helm:
1. What aspects of Jesus’ mind, heart and/or teaching does this draw from? Reveal?
2. What other knowledge streams helped us make this decision? How do they echo Jesus’ perspectives or not?
3. Did all those involved practice parrhesia: speaking boldly and truthfully with the desire to make sure the prophetic voice is not overlooked and the good of the Church is at the forefront?
4. Can everyone involved in the decision explain why it was made, how it was made and what it is intended to impact, anchoring it in Jesus’ mind/heart?
5. Are those who see a different decision as more advantageous invited to do two things: give this decision a chance to bear fruit so they support it during the initial time period; and, continue to study, think and pray about the alternative, asking for the Spirit’s guidance. The alternative decision might be the next one, so having people prepared to implement it is wise.
What comes of all of this? Trustworthiness that flows from the assurance that the decision-makers had Jesus at the center, that they sought other knowledge streams, dialogued and debated openly as they searched for the Spirit’s voice, and they can share all of this with the rest of the Body of Christ. This is part of the work of making trustworthiness the soil in which all are planting seeds. It can provide the stable foundation for synodality to take root.
Remember: Keep Jesus at the helm. Speak boldly what needs to be said. Embrace many points of view. Be humble enough to know that no one gets it right all the time, except Jesus. Ask dissenters to read, think, and continue to pray, sharing what they are learning and seeing. They may in fact see more clearly with Jesus’ eyes…and in either case, their voices are important. Make room for mistakes. Be quick to change if they are apparent.
This is part of what makes a parish/diocese trustworthy. It’s also hard but holy work.
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Remember, #trustworthiness is a foundation for synodality.
Photo from Unsplash Loik Marras