Resuscitating the Church to Beat Passionately for Christ

Are we communities of Christ, transformed by Christ, or graying institutions that no longer affect our communities and society? 

© Photo by Chad Greiter | unsplash.com

August 31, 2023
6 min read

Suppose St. Paul appeared in our parishes today. What would he find? Beyond trying to figure out how we practice Christianity today, imagine an enthusiastic Paul asking us, “So, after Mass, which community are you visiting, and who are you following up with to pass on the Good News?” What would be our response?

The meaning of synodality

The Synod on Synodality is the largest participative process in the history of the Catholic Church and probably humanity. In many languages, thousands of conversations based on mutual listening and journeying together have been conducted, from dusty villages in Indonesia to gleaming skyscrapers in New York. However, like large projects anywhere, it is subject to all forms of misunderstanding. Critics have said that it is a process that has challenged Church authority, creating confusion of dogma. Supporters have said it has been a process to allow those who were seldom heard to be listened to, and that this method truly allows the laity a participative role in Church life as called for in Lumen Gentium during the Second Vatican Council, a concrete way to overcome a culture of clericalism.

Maybe it is good to read the explanation from the initiator-in-chief, Pope Francis, who said, “Synodality is the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.”

Still, the term “synodality” is foreign to the average Catholic. It is a technical term in Church language, and it tends to be associated only with meetings among bishops. It took a while to unpack its deeper meaning and to begin its practice, and probably many decades will pass before this way of being Church becomes the norm. So it might be helpful to try and understand the mind of Pope Francis and why he invited 1.3 billion Catholics to begin this process. To start with, it will be good to go to Aparecida in Brazil.

Why the need for a synodal process?

Aparecida is the most popular shrine of Our Lady in South America. It was here where, in 2007, Archbishop Bergoglio, with his brother bishops, pondered deeply in front of Our Lady the future of the Church in Latin America. Though Latin America remains a stronghold of Catholicism, Catholic life has dwindled. In the landmark Aparecida document, the bishops of Latin America wrote: 

“A Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of the faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time. Our greatest danger is the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the church in which everything apparently continues normally, but in reality, the faith is being consumed and falling into meanness.

“We must all start again from Christ, recognizing that being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” 

The penetrating words of the Bishops of Latin America would resonate with many of us globally. Are we communities of Christ, transformed by Christ, or graying institutions that no longer affect our communities and society? And the comment about meanness, so true isn’t it? How many of us have experienced some form of this meanness in parishes? So isn’t it time for us to have a conversation, to listen to the hurts and hopes, then discern where we are to go for the sake of Christ, instead of carrying on business as usual? 

The election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy came during a crisis within the global Church, marked by scandals of abuses and a perceived disconnect between leaders and those they seek to serve. It is often easy to give into simplistic labels when it comes to reviewing the papacy of Francis, which has just marked its tenth year. But the Aparecida document provides a good insight into his strategic approach. Even the fact that Pope Francis called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016, that it is being followed in 2025 by a Jubilee Year with the theme of the New Evangelization, points to how much he carries within himself the desire of a pastor passionate for Christ, seeking to resuscitate the Church, that her heart might beat again in conformity with the Heart of Christ.

Effects from the synodal experience 
in Singapore

I can’t speak of the effects of the synodal process for others, but it has to an extent, reactivated something deeper in the life of the Archdiocese in Singapore. The Synodal process has been an eye-opener for us who live in a dense urban environment in a global city. Through the synodal process, we realized that while we were doing well as an institutional church we forgot about being Church. 

What does that mean? That we should have remembered how to listen to each other, not simply to work together but to listen and embrace the hurts and hopes of each other. Through the method of the synodal process, we became conscious of the brokenness in our midst and how the Church has failed at times to address the most important thing, which is being relational in real terms. As a people of the Eucharist, we needed to be a people of communion in practice.

The synodal process also came at the right time. Covid erected new walls among us, and the process of listening, sharing, and then discerning together helped us rediscover why we are here. We are not here to be an institution, but to be a witness of hope. 

We concluded our process with a two-day Archdiocesan assembly. It allowed us to get to know each other and rejoice in the many fruits of the Holy Spirit working in our midst that impact Singapore. Someone remarked, “I did not know that there is so much good work and talent in our diocese.”

As Singaporeans tend to be critical of everything, the assembly was also the first time there were no complaints but truly a joyous celebration of being a family of God.

But before I started serving in the process, a few people asked me if it was worth it, and one person even commented. “As a church, we are so divided; can this even work?” I have always replied that God will show us the way; we just need to try.

Admittedly there is still a lot of work to do, and we will never see the end, but through the Synodal process, Pope Francis is inviting us to follow Jesus bravely and passionately and to do this together.       

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.

Lawrence Chong, a member of the Focolare Movement, served as the co-moderator of the Singapore Archdiocesan Synod Committee. He is also a consultor in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. And he is the Group CEO of Consulus, a global change by design firm for personal, organization, and city transformation for an economy of communion.