Synodality and Interfaith

By Michael Yates, 15 March 2023
Participants greet each other during the Diocese of Parramatta Interfaith Iftar Dinner on 20 April 2022. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


All our life is a process. A process that stalls unless we let go of whatever God sees is holding us back. I see my hands as they used to be in childhood – decades ago – close together, carefully clasping my faith, my Church, like a shoe box that carried what I needed to tread each day upon this earth.

But as the years have gone by and I have taken on the idea of walking together, of sharing with others (including clergy) what wisdom I have acquired by listening to others – I have found two things happening. I have allowed the “shoe box of childish faith” to fall to the ground and that allowed my hands and arms to slowly open. They are now wide open – which leaves my heart vulnerable to injury – but I see it as the only way to move forward as God certainly wants us to do.

On the way, I have set aside that gnostic heresy that says – on the day of his ordination – a bishop receives from God truckloads of wisdom for him to dispense to others. Letting that idea go leaves room for others to share their wisdom – regardless of position or power. I have set out – as the church teaches – to affirm all that is good and true wherever I might find it. That includes my other Christian brothers and sisters, my Muslim brothers and sisters, Hindu or of other religions – and none. God sees beyond the categories we set up for ourselves. And so, must I.

For example, the two Muslim men I admire the most are, firstly, a Palestinian doctor who refused to hate (and wrote a book of that title) when his three daughters were blown to pieces by an Israeli tank as the girls lay in their bedroom. Secondly, a Saudi Muslim who sought out the two Anglo-Christian men who killed his son while studying in America. The man wanted to tell his son’s murderers he forgave them. What extraordinary faith. Everything that any Christian would hope for.

The insights of diversity

There was a Hindu family across the road from us until recently. I sent them a prayer greeting on the day they celebrated the special day for Ganesha, the elephant god. As a Christian, I will never believe in Ganesha but by looking below the image (as a Hindu website invited me to do), I was able to find common qualities that any human being could understand: the broad forehead of Ganesha reminds us all to be broadminded. His small eyes call us to focus. His trunk that can swing any way it chooses reminds us to be flexible. And so on.

The Spirit constantly calls us to try something new. As the very closeness of God, the Spirit is our evolutionary call to grow, to see wherever there is goodness and truth. And to have the courage to separate God from the Church (when the latter has been responsible for unimaginable abuse) and seek out God (that is, the terrible truth we want to hide from and the love our bishops – not the laity – chose not to show the victims of abuse) rather than seek out ways to protect the Church.

Wherever there is wisdom, truth not often attended to, love that has no interest in religious structures or beliefs… that is where our hearts and minds must turn. And where they must listen. I see this as the fullest understanding of synodality and it seems to automatically include an interfaith approach to life. As has been said, we cannot be religious, we must be interreligious. We must see all human beings as our brothers and sisters. Because that is how God looks upon them. And that allows us to pray for people we want to reject: the Taliban, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, the Australian politicians we love to hate. Even the Australian Cardinal that some Australian Catholics see as all-loving when he was deeply human like the rest of us.

Michael Yates. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

Michael Yates is a parishioner of Christ the King Parish, North Rocks, and a member of the Diocesan Interfaith Commission.


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