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Pope Francis’ Call for Synodality in the Philippine Context, Part 2



“Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heal the wounds, to labor and not to seek to rest, to give of myself and not ask for a reward, except the reward of knowing that I am doing your will. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pray for us. Amen ~ St. Ignatius Prayer


The first part of this 4-part synodality essay, was an open invite to the Archdiocese of Caceres-in waiting to clarify for the laity the definition of what the Church is, aside from it being a physical structure for worship on Sundays. Archbishop Charles Borromeo of Milan formulated what a sacred architecture should be like and where they should be built, but that was a Counter Reformation effort mandated by the Council of Trent.


The Roman Catholic Church is no longer under attack from the reformist Lutherans. The Protestant movement has splintered into multiple denominational faith groups that no longer poses a threat to the Mother Church. We now have a pope leading the effort to change this existing paradigm to one where the faithful are encouraged to go back to a missionary church as envisioned by the Apostles.


Pope Francis’ call for synodality is not new. Vatican Council II provided the impetus to a reexamination of the teaching and the practice of the church. The deep disagreements today over Pope Francis’s theology on the centrality and meaning of certain moral and doctrinal teachings expose the fault lines of what is supposed to be a universal church.


Pope Francis, and for that matter, the Catholic Church is under attack from within the Magisterium and the conservative/traditionalist bishop and cardinal theologians that are contributing to the polarization within the Church. In essence, they are questioning the pope’s fidelity to the Church. It is an oxymoron to accuse the pope of practicing heresy because the pope is the Vicar of the Mother Church who happens to be a Jesuit.


The Magisterium tells us that the conclave that selects the pope is guided by the Holy Spirit. The conclave that selected Cardinal Jorge Bergolio to be the next pope knew that he was a Jesuit Cardinal from Argentina who was a practicing Jesuit and who advanced Latin America’s Liberation Theology. Pope Francis has written numerous encyclicals that reflect his Ignatian spirituality. He will not be supportive of the traditional orthodoxy, and he will be more loyal to Jesus (than other men in the cloth). He brings with him a reformist agenda.


This is one reason why there is a need for inculturation and for redefining the meaning of the Church, and by extension, the meaning of fidelity to such Church. Our common understanding of fidelity in the Church is fidelity to the magisterium and the Church hierarchy all the way to the top, the pope. Well, they are certainly part of it. Fidelity, however, is faithfulness to something distinct from oneself, not only to official Church teachings, but also with practices in the Church or how the living church acts. In Pope Francis’ case, he lived ecclesiology.


It reminds me of a time when Inigo de Loyola and original members of the religious order, the Society of Jesus, set the world on fire. For Ignatius of Loyola, the Church is the visible incarnation of the Lord, and His visible representative here on earth is the Vicar of the Mother Church – the Pope, who continues the work of Christ. Many questioned his orthodoxy and loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, but Ignatius was a strong believer who never wavered with his service to the pope.


During his time, Ignatius battled opponents of the church - the Lutherans, false prophets, and Catholics who criticized the Church. We live in an interesting time that often repeats history. Pope Francis, who wants us to go back to the time when Jesus was here on earth as embodied in the Acts of the Apostles, is the modern-day Ignatius of Loyola who is being challenged by traditionalists for his desire to labor with Christ and to spread the reign of God to non-Catholics, to those ostracized by the Church.


There was a time when the Jesuits were kicked-out from Spanish-controlled territories because of their closeness to the pope and political establishments. Today, we have a Jesuit pope who espouses the Ignatian Spirituality of service (action) to Christ through his papacy who lives the core values of the Gospel such as “authenticity, integrity, courage, love, forgiveness, hope, healing, service and justice.” Francis’ reforms certainly carry with them an aura of authenticity with mercy and love written all over them.


Pope Francis said that “to know WHAT is the teaching of the church is to ask the Magisterium. (But) on HOW it is practiced, to ask the faithful who live it.” Since the Magisterium is the authority or office who is tasked with providing the authentic interpretation of the word of God. It consists of the Pope and the bishops in union with him. What is happening, however, some of these bishops and cardinals are not in union with him, including many Filipino bishops who only gave proforma support to the reforms Pope Francis has begun.


The Ignatian definition of what a church includes is the global community outside of the place of worship where we usually go. It is a community of sinners and not perfect people. Being a community, it goes beyond holding hands when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, but how we journey together, how we support one another, and experience God in our mission together. Regardless of our religious s affiliations or beliefs, we are one body in Christ.


What is happening in the Catholic Church today reminds me of the now forgotten Jubilee Song written by a Filipino priest for the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year 2000. “Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery. That we are all together as one family. No more walls, no more chains, no more selfishness and closed doors. For we are in the fullness of God’s time.”


Pope Francis is asking us to join him in this journey of a lifetime as one family, towards a synodal church. A truly universal church where “all are welcome, where all share the mission and contribute their prayer, time and talents will have an impact on those the Catholic Church still believes have been chosen by God and given special gifts to lead and to discern.”


God’s word is given to the global community by the power of the Holy Spirit. The word of God is not only the domain of a few bishops and cardinals; it is to be understood in the context of dialogue, of a broader community conversation. The word of God must emerge within the whole Church in communion with the pilgrim People of God. (To be continued)



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