In my article yesterday, I discussed Pope Francis’s response to a reporter’s question about the ideology-driven rhetoric of anti-synod malcontents like Cardinal Raymond Burke and the Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) movement. Sadly, he gave an example of an all-too-common effect of this, relaying a story:

 A few months ago, I called a Carmelite. “How are the nuns doing, Mother Superior?” She was a non-Italian Carmelite. And the prioress answered me. And she finally said to me: “Your Holiness, we are afraid with this Synod.” “Now what’s going on?” I said jokingly. “Do you want to send a sister to the Synod?” “No, we are afraid you are going to change doctrine.”

This fear, stoked repeatedly by reactionary and traditionalist bishops and Catholic media figures, has trickled down to ordinary Catholics and into our parishes, seminaries, convents, and cloisters. The narrative has become so pervasive in the US Church and has caused such great confusion that it has been extremely difficult to counter. Last week, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago wrote a fine article aimed at addressing these fears, invoking the legacies and teachings of Pope Francis’s predecessors, Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, and quoting from the 2018 document on Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church. Excerpt:

“Composed of a preposition ‘syn’ (with) and the noun ‘ódós’ (path),” the documents notes, “(synod) indicates the path along which the people of God walk together. Equally, it refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents himself as “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), and to the fact that Christians, his followers, were originally called “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).” The fathers of the church consider the word “synod: a synonym for the church, as we see in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, who observes that “church” is the name for “walking together (synodia).”

Yet, despite all of this very helpful theological background, we unfortunately have witnessed recent statements by some taking issue with Holy Father’s decision to call a synod on synodality. Among the mistaken assertions, which are stoking fears, is that the gathering in Rome this October will radically alter church teaching and practice, align both with secular ideas and result in schism.

History has shown that the use of fear tactics by those who resist any kind of renewal that involves change is not new. We would do well to recall the speech, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia” (“Mother Church Rejoices”), given by St. Pope John XXIII at the start of Vatican II.

In the face of dire predictions that the council would ruin the church, the saintly pope rejected the thoughts of “prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster” in the world and in the future of the church.

But more important, these modern day “prophets of doom” totally mischaracterize the aim of the synod on synodality. The main question for the upcoming synod is: How are we to remain faithful to Christ’s own plan for the church? This is a question St. Pope John Paul II insisted the church must continually raise.

I think Cardinal Cupich’s employment of John XXIII’s words about the “prophets of doom” are apt. As we approach the opening of the first session of the Synodal assembly next month, it is well worth revisiting the entire opening address of the Second Vatican Council from October 1962. The section on “Pessimistic Voices” is just as valid today as it was then, as it is in all eras. (Note that at the time, the pope still spoke in the first-person plural, using “We” and “Our,” rather than “I” and “my”):

In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.

There’s no question we have a new generation of prophets of doom today. Replacing Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, today we have Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Joseph Strickland. Thankfully we also have strong voices today, in the mold of Saints John XXIII and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (the future John Paul II) — figures such as Pope Francis and Cardinal Michael Czerny. The US delegation has a number of strong, leading American voices too, including Cardinals Cupich and Joseph Tobin, as well as Bishop Daniel Flores, all of whom have shown great strength, commitment to the synodal process, and a deep love of the Church.

Image: Vatican Media.

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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