Age-Old New Ways

When Jesus introduced new ways of thinking about religion to His Jewish community, most of the church hierarchy of the time did not accept it or want anything to do with it.  When His followers began to reach out and engage non-Jews, it was too much for the old Jewish guard and they condemned the new ways.  But the new ways were actually age-old and proven, rooted in human creation, basic morality, immutable love, and divine mercy.

As the Catholic Synod introduces new ways of thinking about our religion, some people will have a hard time accepting them.  When women, who are barred from priesthood because they are not men, are given decision-making positions within the church—because they can make decisions as well as men—some leaders and members won’t want anything to do with it.  If there is active outreach and engagement to intrinsically disordered or otherwise marginalized people, it will be too much for some of the old Catholic guard that will condemn the new ways.  But the new ways are old and proven, rooted in human dignity and Christian nature.

I don’t know where the synodal model will take the universal church, or local communities, but I suspect it will be to places of greater dialogue with one another and with God.  Like many of you, it is tough for me to accept certain new things.  I resist many, if not most, aspects of social media and artificial intelligence.  I am deeply disappointed that Sunday churchgoing has declined drastically in recent times and that the Day of the Lord has diminished in the collective societal mind.  Yet I also perceive immense value given us by the internet and advances in technology; and I can sympathize with those who are skeptical and disdainful of organized religion or simply unmotivated by Sunday worship.

Pope Francis seems to possess characteristics similar to those of Atticus Finch who, in To Kill A Mockingbird, was patient, insightful, fair, honest, tolerant, understanding of those who saw the world differently from him, sympathetic to those who suffer, appreciative of those who are willing to learn, and encouraging to those who are open to growth.  In Lee Harper’s Depression-era story about racial prejudice in the deep south, the protagonist children are brought to tears by how their white adult community belittled and condemned blacks; they could not accept what every generation before them accepted: destructive preconceptions that some groups of people are better than others or that some people are intrinsically disordered.  Unfortunately, their concern is not far from our world’s current crises in which one group of people subjugates another group to slavery or inhumane living, or one person rapes or murders another, or terrorists kill innocents, behead babies, or maim children.  It still brings us to tears.

Though religious people cannot do much to diminish violence but through good works and example, I think that the church is coming to an important realization through the synodal process much as some of the citizens of Maycomb County in Harper’s classic novel did through the trial of Tom Robinson.  Even though the old guard didn’t change their attitude during the unfolding events, deep down they understood that a new way of being is inevitable and that their old ways had veered from the age-old ways of our human creation, basic morality, immutable love, and trust in God’s mercy.  Francis and Atticus are both idealistic and realistic at the same time; they face specific circumstances and problematic situations in the context of a bigger mission that sees the greater good and works toward a better future.  They are tremendous models as we face a challenging world that doesn’t always make sense, and they lead civic and religious communities to find meaning, purpose, and direction despite our faults and stubbornness.