A decade ago, no one could have predicted that a Pope would acknowledge a need for the Peoples’ opinion on anything. Yet, here we are at that very moment. We are being called to a new world order where power is shared with us in consultation let alone a change in the institution. The Holy Spirit gifted us with new challenges and opportunities at this incredible moment in history.
We, the Peoples Synod, celebrate a hint of new life on the horizon, a hint of inclusion in these unsettled times. Some might cynically refer to our name as an oxymoron. We are a unique church reform movement centered on serving the needs of the People of God, the largest, most historically-ignored population of our Church. Our work is different; our target audience was inspired—it’s the People of God. That large target is populated by individuals who were not invited to participate in this challenge by their pastor/bishop, those who are alienated from the institution by abuse: power and control, sexual crimes, financial gain, etc. These are the forgotten, the ignored that we will seek out.
Within that population are the very people, we believe, that could add value to the outcome of the 2023 Synod. Turning an autocratic governance model upside down is a monumental feat. There are innumerable variables to consider with every step and major global impact as it proceeds. We defined our target audience, developed and tested the chosen process through a successful pilot. Our relationship with the Spirit is new and unique. Pope Francis’ dream is a phenomenal historic leap; with no model to follow, no expert to approach–except the Spirit, by default, we’re a team. We support Her vision through prayer and discernment and nudged and motivated by Her to act.
We initially struggled with our movement’s purpose but never abandoned the notion that we were called to support the faithful. But how? When the Synod of 2021-2023 was announced, however, the epiphany happened. We saw our Call clearly: to wake the faithful from their slumbers by engaging them in dialogue about issues that personally affected them and to dream of recommendations extend that reach as wide and deep as possible.
Synodality, a particularly complex construct, is said to be an ancient process. To really understand synodality is to experience it rather than have it explained. It’s a head-heart issue and synodality realized has incredible hidden benefits that are often initially undetected. First, through deep listening, we gain a more holistic perspective of an issue by hearing others share their stories on the same issue. Second, as stories continue to be shared, our perspective widens and deepens on the topic and causes a closer relationship with the other through the vulnerability of sharing. Third, as relationships grow and deepen, trust builds and as trust increases, there is a new sense of “ownership” to the issue. That sense of ownership keeps us mindful of the care and nurturance of a proposed solution for it to have sustainability.
We believe that because synodality is counter cultural, it is best experienced (heart value) than taught (head value). Engaging in respectful dialogue in small communities, listening to peers is an optimal direction for truly absorbing the benefits of synodality in these challenging times. We need to make space, as Pope Francis calls us, for something new to happen. Once experienced, there is a lasting impression coupled with an ability to embrace a method that is transformative to the process and to each cooperating individual. The magic is that communally and individually, we are changed. Experience trumps cognitive definition offering illustrative understanding and stronger relationships as outcomes.
Pope Francis gifted the Church with a marker moment, a historic opportunity for us en masse, opening the door to be heard, we provide responses to share how we believe the institution can best serve the needs of the People. Unique, indeed. We’re being invited to travel the same journey as our Pontiff. Mind-blowing, isn’t it? In marker moments such as these, we must be realistic. We cannot imagine another repeat of Vatican II where outcomes were changed—not shared until they were re-interpreted for us. Really? We don’t do that to four-year-olds. That can never occur again. Our trust, however, is in Pope Francis. Vatican II offered a new vision of Church where the people were recognized as the People of God, a new respectful identity. Focusing on our call to holiness, a call to become missionaries of our faith and stressing the importance of family, etc., were all elements of the change that was dreamed but power stepped in and subverted it.
Our Plan/Our Process:
Our process is a simple one.
- Prayer, Dialogue and Debate
We engage in prayer for guidance, spending untold hours in dialogue and debate. (Because of how long this takes, this may rattle the impatient.) We knew our grounding to this point; relationships believing relationships are the foundation of our faith; Scripture is all about relationships, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s sort-of a relationship manual showing us worst-and-best case scenarios to learn from. The Spirit calls us to strong, deep relationships (right relationships); wholeness is needed in this high velocity world.
Insightful Discovery: Prayer and dialogue moved us to application but we shared a sophomoric faith life we were taught as children, we recognized that we were facing a silent, invisible impediment to moving forward. That impediment, though simple in words, is complex in its origins. It’s best understood by an encounter with a young man who needed to go to a pharmacy to pick up his depression medication (taken his entire adult life). In asking why he hadn’t tried natural means, he looked up, pensive as if the idea had never crossed his mind. He pondered a moment and then said, “…but that’s all I know…” That comment parallels our Catholic Christian experience in a nutshell and we recognized an internal obstacle. We were following the faith we were taught that had imbedded in it seeking permission, guidance, dependence by an authority figure.
The Demonstrated Power of the Spirit
We, Cradle Catholics, were raised with a chain of submission; we were made to believe we not enough for God and we needed a dependent relationship, a higher physical power to guide us, to prepare us to be good enough to gain salvation. Immediately it put us in a box reliant on an authority to show us a path while punitively keeping us on course. We bought the bait. Every time we posed the question to our planning team, instinctively, there was a question of concern. Questions like should we align with others because we are so small, so unknown, so empty of resources. The Spirit stepped in at the precise moment reaffirming the path we were on. An Emmaus moment! It was then that Pope Francis announced that our recommendations were not to be a recycling of “what is” but rather be built upon two criteria: they needed to be innovative and sustainable. Thank you, Spirit!
Prayer continued prompting dialogue to continue. Over time, we began to think we were good enough and this was followed by an almost irrational move toward action. “What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!’ or “We’ve talked about this and talked about this. When do we act?” The chain of dependence was broken igniting celebration, a joyous freedom to use our gifts, not the approval or disapproval of an authority figure to move forward. We then realized that our target population will have the same issues making our movement forward unsettling. Our bubble was temporarily deflated; frustration set in. Onward, we said, let’s rethink the process and confront the question of who needs the chains of dependence broken for the same kind of freedom we experience? With no disagreement, all agreed it was the periphery. The next struggle became: How feasible is it to ask those who have turned their backs on the institution to comment on what a healthy Church of the future looks like. These issues were larger-than life.
Finding the Target
If those sentiments were unconsciously imbedded in our target population, how can they be reached for dialogue? We decided that our contact needed to be indirect, not direct. Outreach to all might arouse an opportunity to share experiences in an accepting, non-judgmental milieu with others. Some theology tells us we aren’t good enough to approach Jesus directly with our lived experience issues and must go to Mary to be our intermediary causing us to speculate whether this is not the moment for a Theology of the People of God.
Searching for Wisdom
Acts: Pointed to an External Obstacle. In reading the Book of Acts it became clear the faithful had similar issues to our own. Believers in Jesus’ message were immersed in a non-accepting world opposite from their beliefs causing many to be condemned and killed for those beliefs. Immediately, the thoughts of a contemporary culture came to mind where cancel culture has current effects on how People think and behave creating an external obstacle.
Vatican II: In reading the documents of Vatican II, I we are facing yet another similarity. Francis has opened the windows. We are examining territory that was once forbidden, a territory that smacks of “that’s all I know…” that will take time to decompose. The reality of the documents being altered for self-serving reasons, initiated an anger that is still hard to extinguish. The texts read greatly influenced our thinking and pointed directly to the issues pro and con we were about to face.
Francis’ New Evangelization. We followed up those readings with an immersion in Pope Francis’ thinking and found that for us, he never missed the mark. Did he ok women priests, married priests, gay marriage—NO! these symptomatic issues are all results of a poor governance system. Too many continue to focus on issues of little interest to Francis; his interest is on root causes (that have the potential of solving multiple problems, when implemented), macro issues where more solutions lay out of sight. Science was his educational background. He openly invites the People of God to speak out, to identify what’s broken and offer recommendations to fix them. Not many CEOs have that kind of courage. This invitation can, if accepted, have a dual transformative effect on both the faithful and the institution.
Sadly, there are too many in the clerical culture who fear this move by resisting, ignoring, or sabotaging Francis’ invitation. Motivated by fear of change, the reaction needs to be expected in every step forward. Everything priests worked to achieve: a pastorate, a bishop title or an affirmation of their conformity to being legislators not empathizers won them a Cardinal’s hat. The tone and tenor of Francis’ invitation is now calling all of us to SERVICE? Reversing the paradigm of what they worked hard to achieve is the cost being asked of them and for many, it’s too costly.
Turning an Obstacle to a Success
Recognizing that phenomenon, we labeled it as another external obstacle to reaching the periphery. That helped determine that this becomes a project outside the institution, open to all and applicable to all. The simple outcome of this massive endeavor is to teach us all how we interact with one another–with family, neighbors, or business relationships. In researching transformation literature, we became aware that nothing we recommend organizationally could be sustainable without the conversion of the People, one missing link to sustainability. Thinking through what we learned has caused us to think more broadly and deeply about what we’re facing. It’s even more complex to create metanoia moments in our recommendations to complement and nurture throughout.
We’ve accepted our path fully realizing it is not a “one and done” activity; it is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional and extremely broad and challenging to and for all affected. Focusing on synodality, we believe that continuing our small group dialogue is a long-term commitment demanding us to manage it now and beyond the 2023 Synod addressesing the sustainability criteria. This is new territory for us all and there is no manual to follow, no wizard to consult – except the Spirit who works with us on Her own time. Transformation this size can be a communal metanoia, a personal and group opportunity. Everything in between is transitional and by that very nature, is not a sustainable move.
Pope Francis is clever. He has a dual focus on institutional change to meet future needs of the People of God but if done well, it has the potential of converting the People. We have long believed the institution and the faith are not conjoined twins and can be dealt with separately. His foresight has brought the two together. There are benefits to this approach as the process we have selected may help participants to emerge from their bubble of obedience, passivity and silence in matters of faith. Having an OPM identity is not a motivating factor in creating a future of service to the Sensus Fidelium. Because of its pervasive nature hindering a healthy identity, we believe OPM may someday make it to JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The institutional aphrodisiac of power and control is being challenged everywhere, across all institutions, and the Church has not escaped it. Sharing power and control will continue to have resistance among the clergy and can only be displaced by the willing participation of opposing entities collaboratively working together to achieve win-win outcomes. The LCWR did it so our efforts have a model peppered with extra doses of patience.
Excluding the People of God from the following processes was a strategic misstep yet, it is our hope that Pope Francis (the Pope of Surprises) creates a Hail Mary Pass at the 11th hour. His action on this issue would calm the fears of those who say they have no time to devote to this project that has already been decided.
We’ve been proactive in our views of the project. We have guaranteed to be inclusive and practice open communication. We believe we have the potential of enticing the periphery with a forgiveness mindset (that includes interaction with the clerical culture) and engaging a broad population (evangelical, corporate, etc.) as this solution can heal and repair the institution, the dynamics that kept us enslaved and the conversion of the People of God. It is time to recover the values of our faith.
We have begun establishing our small groups inviting all to engage. It can be a personal and communal opportunity to make history for yourself and for others you engage with. As we begin to schedule these events, we all have a backlog of the People we believe have potential to add value to fulfilling this mission where all benefit.
Questions? Do not hesitate to call (847-366-2761) or by email JWHauter.firstname.lastname@example.org