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Here Comes Trouble

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Culture Clash in the Church

Ever heard of a “culture clash?” If you’ve traveled outside of the United States, you’ve probably experienced it. Everything seems different, from the obvious things like language, food, money, and music to the subtler things like relationships, the importance of family, how respect is shown, what religious practices look like (yep, even inside the Catholic faith), how the sexes relate to one another, to what’s expected in terms of social custom. The list can go on and on and even a quick trip across one of our borders helps us realize what we don’t really notice when we are at home. It’s different…the culture is different.

Why am I bringing this up, this idea of culture clash? Because we are in one right now within our Church. Pope Francis is calling us to create a different culture within the Church and that means the culture we currently have, in whatever form, will clash with the one we are to create. He's calling for the embrace of #synodality. The Synod on Synodality is a call to learn how to live, move and have our being within the Church together in very different ways than we do at present. How so? Here’s my take on some of the elements of our current culture that will clash with a synodal culture:

  • Too little accountability, transparency, and integrity and therefore low trust

  • Clericalism: the idea that the clergy are at the top of the pyramid in terms of education, experience, power and decision-making.

  • Divisions: between rad-trads and progressives, between Pope Francis and Saint John Paul II Catholics/clergy, between those identifying with different political parties, between culture warriors and social justice Bishops/priests and people.

  • Belief in the Church: the idea that the Church is somehow infallible, and her systems, structures and practices are above scrutiny, accountability and reform.

  • Not enough Jesus and too much “Father” and “The Church.”

  • Eurocentric Church perspectives

  • Decision-making concentrated among clergy/Bishops

  • The parish and the Eucharist as the draw

  • Certainty in teachings and practices

  • Comfort and low challenge

  • Apathy and indifference creating nones, and dones who are ignored

Feel free to disagree with some of those cultural descriptors, and to add others. These are representative of the culture in the U.S. Catholic Church…not exhaustive. My point is, this is the “water” we are swimming in. Pope Francis is calling for us to change the water and that means we will be uncomfortable. It means some things we’ve liked will die. It means we will have to learn and we will have to embrace the journey into uncertainty. Culture change requires that.

Here’s my take on the culture of a synodal Church (from my perspective of the Church in the United States):

  • No more clericalism. Instead, an embrace of the dignity of all the baptized and a re-discovery of the gift of each of the baptized understanding their rights and responsibilities, all serving under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.

  • Divisions give way to an embrace of diversity. A synodal culture recognizes that the Spirit’s gifts are given to all for the good of the Body. So instead of divisions creating camps and accusations, culture wars and gossip-fests, they are the very “stuff” with which the Spirit creates.

  • Belief that all of creation is being made new by Christ, continuously, and that is true for the Church. She is not infallible, and her systems and structures are not set in concrete. She is the Body of Christ, being made into a new creation and that means letting go of stodgy, set-in-concrete perspectives.

  • More Jesus. More Holy Spirit. More Scripture, prayer, sacraments, reflection, contemplation, faith sharing, witnessing. Less “Father says,” less doctrine/dogma/rules and precepts disconnected from following Jesus. More healing, more spiritual practices, more works of charity and justice.

  • Eurocentric perspectives give way to Christocentric perspectives as seen from many cultural lenses. This is a sign of unity in our diversity, a unity grounded in Jesus and animated by the Spirit.

  • Consultative decision-making becomes the norm, grounded in the belief that the Spirit dwells within all the Baptized and so the Spirit must be allowed to speak through many.

  • Recognition of low trust and work to earn trust, re-build trust, and be trustworthy. This means honest self-appraisals and acceptance of the larger culture’s struggle with trusting institutions.

  • The draw will be encountering Jesus. The mission field of ordinary life will be the first place we learn to encounter him. The Eucharist remains central for those who have met the Lord in their ordinary lives and now want to meet him more deeply. The parish sees itself as one location where seekers and wanna-be disciples both encounter Jesus through his people. But first, first…it’s God-with-us, in ordinary life.

  • Certainty, overbearing authority, and declarations that no change is possible give way to discerning the Spirit’s call in this age…and holding open the possibility that change is possible, even necessary.

  • Comfort and low challenge give way to curiosity, exploration, and discovery…a real journey into the joy of life in Christ!

  • Paying attention to all the baptized, seeking them out, listening to hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows, taking their criticisms and wounds to Jesus for healing, and remaining connected through listening becomes the work of even the apathetic…because they first reach out to listen to those they love.

The next blog in this series on synodality will take a look at what we can expect in the in-between. The clash of two cultures will make a lot of noise, that’s for sure! Stay with us on the #synodjourney!

A suggestion: Have a listening session with staff and lay leaders around just this subject. Share this blog and then one or more of the following questions:

1. What on this list rings true for you? What does not? Why?

2. Where do you feel most challenged? Why?

3. Where will we as a parish be most challenged? Why?

4. How do we prepare to lead the culture change?

5. What will we need more of and less of as we move forward?

Share this on Social Media Two cultures clash as the Spirit leads the Church into synodality. Don’t expect a peaceful change in this transformation! Jesus did say he came to set a fire on the earth, and that there would be division.

Photo by Rachel Page on Unsplash

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