What kind of Catholics are we?

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What does it mean to be a dedicated Dominican sister, member of the Order of Preachers within a church that largely rejects women preaching in liturgical contexts?

Luckily for me, I’m blessed with a high tolerance for perceived contradictions. In fact, it was my penchant for incongruities that, after 25 years as a non-practicing Catholic, brought me back to the fold. For me, the endurance, scope and consistency of Catholic tradition belies a deep underlying truth that allows me to live with the inherent, sometimes painful, contradictions of the Church.

A church that has been shaped over two millennia of doctrinal, theological, and scientific development has a complex and messy history. The Church claims a universality of nature which at the same time contradicts the idea of ​​a single true Church; these holy tensions are intrinsically part of what makes Catholicism unique.

But there is also an ungodly tension building in the United States. It was introduced with the rigid, dualistic overlay of 21st century American culture wars.

Psychological findings reveal that the human brain is wired to seek consistency. Thus, when persistent internal contradictions are perceived, they can generate mental stress that often manifests in unhealthy ways. Unresolved contradictions—the dissonance between seemingly contradictory ideas or perceptions—can lead to behaviors such as harsh judgments, catastrophic attacks, and defensiveness. These response patterns are being exploited in the American Catholic community to sow division among God’s people. A universal church divided into opposing camps is the real contradiction taking root, and the lines are appropriately drawn according to the culture wars.

A recent America magazine article examined the fragmented nature of the Church’s public voice in the United States and how the core values ​​of Catholicism have been usurped by the narrative drama of the Culture Wars. The authors use the appropriate battlefield analogy with American Catholics in their respective trenches, engaged in defending one side or attacking the other. The fact that we have allowed these trenches to take shape and the extent to which we continue to defend them against each other will only serve to further delegate our faith as “one more competing ideology for adherents”.

As the people of God, how can Catholics begin to move towards reconciliation? Pope Francis opened a space for such a “disarmed entry into no man’s land”: the synod of bishops on synodality.

Synods grew out of an ancient form of gathering in the church, rooted in the concept of ‘walking together’. The modern synodal process is intended to help the pope and church leaders understand the call of the Spirit and thereby better lead the people of God.

Sister Nathalie Becquart, appointed consultant and undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, described the synod process as an invitation for the people of God to become protagonists in the full expression of agency in the context of the Church. American Catholics are invited to read the signs of the times and discern the responses to be offered. The synod offers a Catholic forum for encounter, listening and discernment. It is a chance to deepen our sense of dialogue by centering Spirit, not agendas and ideologies. This is our invitation to speak boldly, with parrhesia — without fear — of our hopes and concerns. We are asked to trust ourselves as instruments of the Spirit, the ultimate protagonist who renews the Church. The possibilities for ecclesial and spiritual renewal are as amazing as the current state of division in the American Catholic community.

To date, the engagement of the U.S. bishops has been lackluster, with procedural details and reporting overshadowing our call to engage as protagonists of history. Some attribute this to rebellion from the hierarchy or a lack of courageous leadership. Having failed to keep extremists at bay, it now takes great courage to prevent church activists and other disruptors from derailing the commitment of people of goodwill. To be misunderstood or, worse, drawn into the culture wars and co-opted by one side, must be the fear of many church leaders. I say this because it is for me, even as I write this reflection. The fear and anxiety of engaging genuinely and in good faith with certain triggering issues paralyzes many Catholics.

Cynicism is another massive obstacle that the people of God must overcome for a meaningful and fruitful synodal process to unfold. We have become too used to having no agency in the church context. But the synod is an event of God. This historic season in the Church and in humanity challenges us to enter into the biblical story, to trust and to embark on a new journey for the people of God.

The first questions are crucial: how to ensure that contributions, concerns and dreams are not swept away? How could we hold bishops accountable for recognizing and not diminishing the holy grumblings and prophetic hopes of people in the church? How to transform a hope into an exploitable opportunity? How to make it a bold and joyful struggle?

To begin such a journey requires courage and conviction on the part of the pilgrims. Sometimes it’s harder to take the first step, so I offer a suggestion. My example as a woman in the Order of Preachers is just one of many where half the human population is relegated to the ecclesial peripheries of the Church. Let’s look at the role of women in the church: There are women everywhere called to serve in more and different ways. Can we talk about it? Could we be willing to risk having this conversation without retreating to the trenches?

Discern deacons is a project that believes we can. Her mission is to engage Catholics in our church’s active discernment on women and the diaconate. The synod process provides the perfect size container for the problem. Imagine how a prophetic diaconate could provide leadership that could enliven, channel and capitalize on a vibrant church of the people. What if we weren’t afraid to have a conversation?

Savvy Deacons will hold a national consultation at two virtual events in May as part of the synod process. These forums will be incorporated into the process through “Region XVI” of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, designated for the participation of national Catholic organizations. Everyone is welcome. This may be another way the Spirit is trying to pull us out of our trenches. Perhaps the Spirit moves within you to become a protagonist.

With such a long history and such abundant church doctrine, it can be easy to forget that the truth of our faith ultimately comes from the reliability of our Teacher. And his good news is a vision that many of us are ready to preach, given the opportunity.

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