Unchanging, yet transforming

Pope Francis talks with cardinals as he leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi (no relation!)

Pope Francis talks with cardinals as he leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi (no relation!)

(Today I present a few rambling, insomnia fueled thoughts on the Synod on the Family and the state of the Church. I hope you will consider commenting, and I hope that no matter what you say, you will pray before doing so. The pause offers us all a moment of grace. How we move forward depends on the bishops – yes, but also the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us hope for the best – even if that best breaks our hearts. What are you praying for?)

You are more than likely aware of the Synod on the Family that began last year, which has resumed in Rome at this time. Depending on how you look at things, we are off to a challenging start. That in and of itself is not bad news for people rooted in mercy in hope, meaning those of us who are bound in unity through Christ. Words like that are easy to type, but let us be honest – they are hard to live. Mercy? Hope? Rooted? Bound? Yes, very difficult work.

Now we have the work of the Synod, with all eyes upon the Church struggling with mercy, hope, being rooted, tradition, being bound, unchanging. Sometimes the church must look like a disco ball spinning and shimmering in the strobe lights of our time – but with certain shards wanting to shine more brightly and powerfully, trying to be the whole ball. Like those tiny pieces of glass, each one of us different – and some of us want to be the whole ball, directing all the light.

Is this what we want?

Is this what we want?

The integrity of the disco ball depends on the strength of its elements and that they hold together in balance. So it is with the soaring walls of cathedrals and skyscrapers, bridges and tunnels, and pretty much anything that is meant to stand solidly. Like the church. We, the members of the Body of Christ must find ways to hold together in balance. Talk about difficult work! Is it possible?

So what does that disco ball have to do with the Synod on the Family? Well, during a bout of very early morning insomnia, I decided to take to “the Twitters” and see what was happening. What I found disturbed me to no end – it was full of Catholics fighting. I know -what a surprise. Yet, this time it was especially vitriolic. This one tweet struck me powerfully – and I do not disagree with it.

God have mercy. What is wrong with us? Then I found this, which addresses in general, the same issue, using different words.

You can see how things are going out there. It is not pretty.  If you are in a family, and I will presume that all of us are in family, in one way or another, how do we work things out? That’s a good question to hold in our hearts as we make our way forward, struggling along with the others who can’t see things the way we do – whomever those “others” are. And in the church, those “others” are members of the same body, dancing – for good or ill – under the same shining lights and the spinning ball. I’m not denigrating who or what we are by comparing it to a disco, make no mistake about that. We are the people of God, called to stretch ourselves – all of us, each one of us – into places we never thought that we would go. Or maybe, return to.

Catholics in the world number something like 1.2 billion or more, so that there are differences should not be a surprise to anyone. But like my brother and me, while there are things that divide us, such as politics in our case, there are also things that unite us. And like it or not, so it must be with the church. Yes, so says this person who is completely disconnected, by conscious choice, from another sibling. (If you know me this is the part where you say, “another what?”)

11-710HMS-web-lgIf any of the 1.2 billion Catholics believe that on the day that Jesus destroyed death, that he rose up from the tomb, donned a fiddleback chasuble and other “traditional” vestments, strode into a Gothic style cathedral, and offered mass in the Extraordinary Form, in Latin, facing ad orientam, complete with incense and chant – it is time to think again. The Church as we know it, a living organism, not a museum, is at once unchanging and yet ever transforming. No wonder many of us are confused!

With no disrespect to mass in the extraordinary form, if we went back to the beginning, and could walk in time with our history, we would see so many different iterations of what it meant to “be church” that our heads might turn into exploding disco balls! And once more, I do mean for all of us. Yes, I have studied a lot of church history – and yet I know that I know so very little. However, I do know this – much has changed. Just yesterday Pope Francis said:

“The Synod is neither a Parliament nor a Senate where we have to negotiate. It is an expression of the Church, it is the Church which walks together to read the truth with the eyes of the faith and God’s heart. It is the Church that questions its fidelity to the tenants of the faith. Faith is not a museum to look at and protect, but a live fountain the Church drinks from to give to others.”

A living fountain – yes, a life giving living fountain, that is a great symbol for church. Can we do this?

These days of the Synod are a welcome gift from God and like all gifts from God, it comes with challenges. Will we be lights or will we shatter the disco ball? Will we hold tight or will we be transformed through Christ who is unchanging yet ever transforming?

Instead of worrying and fretting, instead of not trusting God, instead of not being open, can we let go of our own fears and needs? For some this will not be possible, and at some level, I understand that. But I pray that none of us wish for our hope for the church shatter like that image above. If nothing else, perhaps we can look to these additional words from Pope Francis as a reminder, and to permit God transform our potentially very hardened hearts.

“Apostolic courage is not frightened in the face of the world’s temptations, which tend to extinguish the light of truth in the hearts of men and women, replacing it with small and perishable lights. It’s not frightened either by the hardening of some hearts, who despite good intentions, turn people away from God.”

How do we live the truth of being a church that is at once unchanging, yet ever transforming? I know, who wants that… Do we think we might ever be ready to shut up and try it?


1 thought on “Unchanging, yet transforming

  1. Sometimes I think we are so ingrained to put things in good or bad boxes (myself included!). And when we do that, we set ourselves up to either avoid the bad boxes or hang on tightly to the good ones. And then we pile more and more into the boxes. Maybe we need new eyes that just see things as they are. No boxes. Maybe everything is just an opportunity to learn, to be grateful, to be free, to be love. What if we could just keep the disco ball spinning with all of our lights? I know I’m being a little naive here. I know we all can’t just get along. But Spirit would blow in so much more freely if we let her take our boxes away.


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