The synod begins next week in Rome. In assessing its work, we need to identify and isolate the challenges to synodality coming from both the extreme right-wing and left-wing bleachers. The culture warrior mode — attack your opponent, never give in, seek victory at all costs — is the antithesis of synodality. That culture warrior approach may dominate some of the conversations outside the synod hall, but it will be deadly if it gets inside.
If the intellectual and pastoral leaders of conservative Catholics have decided to undermine the synodal process rather than engage it, how can the synod move forward? Who will get past the divisive culture war instincts and speak to the concerns and hopes of those Catholics who have a conservative disposition?
Clinging to a particular understanding of how the Catholic Church should organize itself to fulfill the mission entrusted to it by its head and founder, Jesus Christ, and insisting all other understanding are wrong or counterfeit, betrays a lack of humility that will kill the synod before it starts.
In this fast-paced, social media-driven, acquisitive commercial culture of ours, lessons in surrendering to the Holy Spirit are not so easy to find. Pope Francis, however, seems to be a master of discernment and allergic to the kind of politicizations that could also kill the synodal spirit. And unlike the whiners on the right or the activists on the left, the pope will be in the room the entire time. I’m betting the other synod participants will follow his lead rather than listen to the outside groups. I’m betting this synod will be a success, no matter what it decides on any particular issue.
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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.