Synod on Synodality - Weeds or Wheat?
Weeds Among the Wheat
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
God’s strategy for dealing with weeds might seem curious to us. We are more used to putting down pesticide or herbicide to avoid the problems of weeds. But the image of today’s Gospel is important because it reveals to us a lot of how God continues to shepherd his Church. He will not always destroy those who are doing harm. Often, he leaves them where they are, although promising a final justice in the end.
We need Jesus
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that:
The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ's return and for new life become fully convincing. (Pope Benedict XVI, 2007, 43)
Perhaps some of the news we have heard from Rome or the various continental processes have worried us. But fear not, Christ still is the Head of the Church. Pope Benedict reminds us that we need Christ. Whenever we lose this from view, the discussions in the Church become petty squabbles. We need Jesus!
Convinced of this great truth, Pope Francis is making a huge effort to make sure that the faith is available to all.
Christianity should always be human and accessible, reconciling differences and distances, turning them into familiarity and proximity. One of the ills of the Church, indeed a perversion, is the clericalism that detaches priests and bishops from people, making them officials, not pastors. Saint Paul VI liked to quote the words of Terence: “I am a man: I regard nothing human as foreign to me”. (Pope Francis, 18 September 2021)
Power of the People of God
Apparently, he perceives some very real problems of a separation between the clergy and the people. If the message of the Gospel is not arriving to the world, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. The synod is an effort to do precisely that.
Something present all throughout the history of the Church and underlined at the Second Vatican Council is the sense of faith of the people of God.
The sensus fidei gives everyone a share in the dignity of the prophetic office of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 34-35), so that they can discern the paths of the Gospel in the present time. It is the “sense of smell” proper to the sheep but let us be careful: in the history of salvation, we are all sheep with regard to the Shepherd who is the Lord. The image (of sheep) helps us understand the two dimensions that contribute to this “sense of smell”. One is individual and the other communitarian: we are sheep, yet we are also members of the flock, which in this case means the Church. These days, in the Office of Readings, we are reading from Augustine’s sermon on pastors, where he tells us, “with you I am a sheep; for you I am a shepherd”. These two aspects, individual and ecclesial, are inseparable: there can be no sensus fidei without sharing in the life of the Church, which is more than mere Catholic activism; it must above all be that “sense” that is nourished by the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). (Pope Francis, 18 September 2021)
The Church is not a democracy
This does not mean a democratization of doctrine. Other Christian churches have a tremendous difficulty arriving at unity in doctrine because there is no central authority figure. This is not the case for us as Catholics. For us the sense of faith demands also an interest in the faith and a docility to being taught right doctrine. When the Pope cites Augustine in this passage, he reminds us of a great truth. With the faithful, priests are part of the faithful. Our greatest dignity comes from our baptism, which we share with all the faithful. But at the same time, we carry a responsibility that comes from the ministerial priesthood that was conferred to us at ordination: to teach, to sanctify, and to govern.
Some will be concerned about the controversies that are catching the headlines. But I think we can apply some of Pope John Paul II’s teaching in his encyclical about ecumenism.
Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)? (Pope John Paul II, 96)
Faithful to the Truth
As Catholics, we can never be afraid of the truth. Truth is real, even if often it is hard to recognize because of our darkened intellects. We can discuss serious topics, because we know that ultimately, Christ is the Truth that will set us free. (cf. Jn. 8:31)
The concern is that some people will use the Synod to promote progressive agendas, that would betray the Deposit of Faith that the Pope and Bishops are called to protect and uphold. Some names of those who will be voting at the Synod have raised eyebrows. We can only pray that our Lord will continue to be merciful towards his Church and we know that he is aware of the weeds among the wheat. Some may try to spread error at the Synod, but we can trust that our Lord knows what he is doing and allowing.
The Gospel criteria that come to us this Sunday propose that we spend this time in deep prayer, confident that God is watching over his Church.
Benedict XVI. (2007). Spe Salvi. [Papal Encyclical In hope we were saved]. https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi.html
Francis. (2021). Address to the Faithful of Rome. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2021/september/documents/20210918-fedeli-diocesiroma.pdf
John Paul II. (1995). Ut Unum Sint. [Encyclical That They Be One]. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-unum-sint.html