Today’s post is from Cristina Traina, a Bondings 2.0 contributor whose bio can be found here.
Let’s face it, conflicts in long, close relationships get into ruts. There comes a moment in which an aggrieved person is so surprised to find that their partner agrees with their complaint that they keep pressing their point anyway, venting the anger they’d built up in preparation for the prolonged dispute they’d prepared for. In these moments it’s almost as if we want to do battle—as if agreement were unearned (“Wait! I did not get to tell you all my reasons!”) and therefore cheap and disappointing.
As a member of the LGBTQ Catholic community, I confess that this is one of my instinctive reactions to the announcement of the Synod on Synodality. I hate to admit that I find so much in the documents to agree with, and I’m tempted to keep fighting. I feel tempted to say to the hierarchy, “Well! I see you have finally come around to my perspective!” Or, “Why should I participate? Do you honestly expect me to believe that you want us to gather as equals and let the Spirit move among us?”
But in the Church, as in love, this kind of response forecloses potential reconciliation by punishing the person who both caused the offense and took the initiative to start healing the resulting breach. So, instead of voicing knee-jerk cynicism, I am breathing deeply, counting to 10, and acknowledging that I’m delighted to see that as part of the Synod on Synodality, everyone in the church is invited to discern together, on equal footing. The priesthood of all the baptized is written all over the Vademecum (the official name for the handbook for local conversations about synodality): we must “overcome the scourge of clericalism” and affirm that “the entire People of God shares a common dignity and vocation through Baptism.” Or again, “we are all interdependent on one another and we all share an equal dignity amidst the holy People of God.”
If I’m honest, I’m also still much too likely to think “priests-bishops-pope-Rome” when I see or say “the Roman Catholic Church.” I don’t—yet—automatically envision the immense, miraculous worldwide network of ordinary “us” united across time and space by our baptism and our love of God. I now understand viscerally the shiver of excitement our reforming brother Martin Luther must have felt when he first committed the words “Through baptism all of us are consecrated to the priesthood” to paper in 1520. This is what the Vademecum—a Roman Catholic document—now affirms.
This document also warns of the danger of placing “unjustified limits on sharing the faith”; conversations should include not just the baptized but also “people who have left the practice of the faith, people of other faith traditions, people of no religious belief, etc.” The “etc.” is huge! In addition, those who feel at home in the Church are to reach out to the “excluded, marginalized, and forgotten.” In other words, all LGBTQ persons—whether we are still, are no longer, or never were connected with the Catholic Church—are particularly invited to breathe in the Holy Spirit, speak out “with authentic courage and honesty,” and be heard with “welcome” and “humility.”
The document also implies that a survey or even a town hall meeting won’t accomplish that goal. Taking time to read, listen, pray, reflect, and even share meals together (lesbian potluck, anyone?) is the way to foster a “lived experience of discernment, participation, and co-responsibility” that will make this equality and interdependence real. The aim is real communion and community, not a poll, and above all not indoctrination.
I’m delighted, and yet my knee-jerk, hands-on-hips self needs courage and conversion, way down deep. There’s an historical explanation for this, just as there’s an historical explanation for exploding in anger at my unexpectedly agreeable partner: past disappointments. Time after time, statements like “Who am I to judge?” or “God loves every person and the Church does the same” have been contradicted by a refusal to bless same-sex relationships, an attack on non-existent “gender theory,” or the judgment that we are “intrinsically disordered.” To make myself vulnerable—again—by trusting the process—again—and promising truly to listen for the Spirit in the words of the people who have condemned me—that’s a big ask. And yet, holding out the hope that this time can turn out differently if we all truly invite the Spirit is my only alternative to the cynicism that has seeded my spirit with ice crystals.
To be sure, trusting in communal, egalitarian discernment isn’t easy, and the outcome is far from guaranteed. The paradox is that if we don’t trust, then inspired discernment can’t happen. Only by calling on God’s grace to calm our justified fear and skepticism (they will not go away!) can all of us, on allsides, live this truth into being. Otherwise, how can we “inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission”?
A recording of New Ways Ministry’s webinar, “From the Margins to the Center: LGBTQ Catholics & Synodality,” is now available here. This 75-minute webinar by Dr. Robert Choiniere looks at how all Catholics, especially LGBTQ people and allies, can help make sure that every voice is heard and recorded during the Synod on Synodality. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the Synod on Synodality, click here.
—Cristina Traina, November 15, 2021