Journeying together while remaining apart?

This October, our local Church will embark on the diocesan phase of the synod consultation process for the 2023 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Sep 18, 2021

                             Editor’s Column Sustained by Grace
This October, our local Church will embark on the diocesan phase of the synod consultation process for the 2023 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

During this preparatory stage, the reality that faces us currently is that we are still unable to come together physically to worship as one community, to meet as parish pastoral council, and to have formation sessions, leadership programmes, catechetical formation and the like, all of which are vital to the growth of a community.

For many, the continued suspension of public Masses has meant a life rhythm disrupted, while for the broader Catholic community, this isolation from parish life is yet another sign of a lost chance to be still, to breathe and to gather together in one of the oldest ways humans know, just when such things are needed most in such unprecedented times.

In the current atmosphere, one of the fundamental questions included in the handbook to be considered by the bishops, clergy and lay faithful over this multi-year diocesan synod process is … “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

So, ‘journeying together’ in current circumstances might force the faithful who have lost their sense of meaning and purpose to ask some deeper spiritual questions such as ‘What is the Church?’ and ‘What is community?’

When Pope Francis was asked what effects the pandemic is having on the Church and how we may need to rethink our ways of living, his response was: “A tension between disorder and harmony: that is the Church that must come out of the crisis. We have to learn to live in a Church that exists in the tension between the harmony and disorder provoked by the Holy Spirit. If you ask me which book of theology can best help you understand this, it would be the Acts of the Apostles. There you will see how the Holy Spirit deinstitutionalises what is no longer of use and institutionalises the future of the Church. That is the Church that needs to come out of this crisis.”

Will we ever go back to the way things were? Most people seem to be asking, “What will our new reality be?” The pandemic will certainly have some long-term impacts on the Church. When the churches reopen for public worship, many will make an enthusiastic return. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and our forced isolation has shown how important the physical presence and gathering of a parish community is to our spiritual life. Online Masses in an empty church with only the priest and altar server visible make us realise that the Church is not just the clergy; she needs the laity.

However, there may be another group which will fall away from the Church permanently. Having been away for more than a year, they may now feel that they do not miss the Church. This may be especially true for those who were only tangentially connected to religion prior to the pandemic.

With the rise of the ‘virtual’ church, the faithful are already accustomed to livestreamed Masses on YouTube and prayer services on Zoom or other digital platforms. Parishes may decide that having BEC gatherings and other parish meetings or faith formation sessions via Zoom will be more practical.

The Spirit is hovering over us in this time of confusion, chaos and crisis. The Holy Father reminds us that we are in “a tension of harmony and disorder”, and we need to live in this tension. Then the Holy Spirit will show us what needs to be deinstitutionalised or discarded. If we are faithful and open to being renewed, the Spirit will also shed new light, bring new tongues of fire, and allow a new creation of harmony and order to emerge.

It is still too early to know what this new reality will be like for all of us. However, we can lean into practices that will allow us to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Now is the time to be praying, reflecting and listening more intently to God’s voice in the inner stirrings of our hearts.

Perhaps then we will be able to respond with enthusiasm and conviction about our ‘journeying together’ despite remaining socially apart.

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