May 2021: Editorial

Differences are creative …

Pope Francis uses this phrase in Fratelli Tutti: ‘differences create tension and in the resolution of the tension lies humanity’s progress’ (#203). This is a useful lens for us to view the proposal of the Irish Bishop’s call for a Synodal Pathway for the Catholic Church in Ireland, (see pages 6-7 here). They borrow the words of Pope Francis A New Pentecost, on the occasion of his visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in 2018.

Pope John XXIII used the phrase A New Pentecost when he called an Ecumenical Council. To simply name this as Vatican II limits its universal scope of worldwide impact. It had a significance that extended beyond the Christian Churches to reach all people of goodwill. An image associated with Pope John XXIII is one of opening the windows of a Church which was closed off by stuffy securities and little disposed to listen to the anguish of the world. John XXIII even addressed the ‘prophets of unhappiness who predict disgrace and fail to recognise the hidden plan of Divine Providence.’

Six decades on, the Irish Church calls for A New Pentecost in the form of a dialogue and listening ‘to the many people who have left the Church behind, who feel ignored, excluded and forgotten.’ A New Pentecost suggests a new covenant, one that the Prophet Jeremiah promises to exiled people who were convulsed by crisis, chaos and controversy – like we are today. ‘I will be their God, they shall be my people. Learn to know the Lord’ (32:38). This is an ideal manifesto for the Synodal path for a dialogue of discernment that should be one of inter-faith, inter-church and open to listening to the unheard, the voiceless, the vulnerable and the disparate voices that make us uncomfortable and uneasy in challenging ways.

It was the outsider Greeks who ask about meeting Jesus. He in turn talks about his ‘hour’ coming. He says ‘I will draw all people to myself’ as a response to them (John 12:20). In Ireland we have a rich migrant presence of cultures, traditions and religions that can enrich our Church – not as one that is semper conservanda, nor semper innovanda, but an ecclesia semper reformanda – a Church always in need of reform. The Synodal Pathway is the gospel ‘hour’ for the Irish Church. To coin a phrase: it is Ireland’s Call.

A Synodal Path is an Emmaus Road that does not focus on our own distractions, disappointments, disillusions or the delusions that blind us ‘often, often, often, to the Christ in stranger’s guise.’ What are we paying attention to these days? Is there a call to seek out the stranger, those who are different to us? Pope Francis tells us that ‘in the depths of every heart, love creates bonds and expands existence towards others’ (Fratelli Tutti #88). No-one and nothing can ever torpedo the melody of the new song of the Lord – even on the alien soil of hostility, prejudice and exclusion.
James Broughton sums up the challenge in his poem, Easter Exsultet:

‘Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.
Lift your ineffable out of the mundane.
Trust deep water and head for the open,
even if your vision shipwrecks you.’

John Cullen