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The Journey towards a synodal Church is at a crossroads, Final Part



As we journey towards a synodal Church, there is a bigger picture we should see to understand why we need to journey with everyone regardless of religious beliefs or affiliations. This way, we will have clarity as to why we need each other, and to live in harmony with our fellow earthlings. The big picture idea I’m talking about is that at the core of each religion, the innermost essence is the same. This is really at the core of Pope Francis’ pursuing a universal church.


Perhaps a simpler analogy is this. A house can have many windows for dwellers to view the outside, and for the people outside, to look and wonder what is inside. The foundations, however, remain unchanged regardless of the number of windows architecturally engineered into it. It is for this reason why Pope Francis wanted to go back to the time of the apostles in Acts, when there were no organized religions.


Think about this. Buddhists believe that “the human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment and nirvana. Enlightenment is the journey in seeking the truth about life. In the process, there is rebirth until nirvana is achieved. Nirvana is a struggle here on earth to achieve a “transformed mind with qualities such as happiness, freedom of negative mental states, peacefulness and non-reactiveness.” Clearly, it is a difficult undertaking here on earth that only monks would even try. So, the lay Buddhist strive instead for a higher existence in the next life.


To guide their day-to-today living, they follow their Five Pretexts that sound like an abridged version of the 10 Commandments. “Refrain from taking life (kill), refrain from taking what is not given (steal), refrain from the misuse of the senses and not having too much sensual pleasure (covet thy neighbor’s wife), refrain from wrong speech (false witness), and refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind (such as drugs, alcohol). The last one involves ego and overindulging in personal pleasures.


What is Shintoism, an ancient Japanese religion? The main beliefs of Shinto are the “importance of purity (cleaning from material or spiritual pollution), harmony, respect for nature (God’s creations), family respect (don’t we all?), and subordination of the individual before the group (love thy neighbor). Shinto has no supreme deity, they worship nature and their ancestors (through “kami,” Shinto gods).


Protestants “believe in three essential beliefs: The Bible is the ultimate religious truth and authority. Through a belief in Jesus Christ and the grace of God, human beings can find salvation. And all Christians are viewed as priests (same as Catholics – common priesthood) and can communicate directly with God (as Catholics do). God in faith alone versus faith and good deeds for Catholicism.


Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) believe that Jehovah is the only true God, the creator of all things, and the “Universal Sovereign.” Meaning, no Trinity as Catholics do. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected (well, Catholics and Protestants do too). They believe that the end of the world is coming soon. Well, JWs believe that the end time began in 1914 and that they (JWs) have the key to salvation.


Islam belief is that “there is only one God and Muhammad is God’s Messenger.” Belief includes obligations of prayers, charity, pilgrimage, and fasting.


We get the picture. Each has a different window to view their beliefs and how to do it to achieve salvation, nirvana, or harmony with God’s creations. In essence, they all believe in something powerful, metaphysical, and in orderly living. Different rituals and different names of deities but all strive for something better in life and after.


So, there is no impediment to journeying together except for men who insist that their religious or spiritual beliefs are more superior than others. Religion has become a cottage industry for saving souls as if whoever gets the greatest number of converts or adherents gets rewarded as a religious group in a heavenly ceremony with God acknowledging the winners. It’s rubbish as the Brits would say!


Let’s take a walk in the forest and see the different kinds of trees, each with their unique fruit, but are all grounded and rooted in the same earth. They are nourished by the same soil and the same source of hydration whether it is from up there (rain) or groundwater. They all have their share of biodiversity or ecosystems that sustain life and growth. Religions clearly drink from the same wellspring of spiritual truth.


Back on earth, there are realities we must confront as citizens of the planet. Poverty, war, corporate greed, starvation, diseases, drought, severe weather, among others. Countries are dealing with them in their own ways but things are getting worse. The journey to synodality is no longer a wakeup call because we’ve been up and about through all these years. Pope Francis’ is a call for action like now and he is willing to suffer the consequences of his actions (from conservative Catholics).


But what about us? Laudato sí is a call for emergent action on climate change. Twenty twenty-three is on track to be the hottest year measured in human history. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC) is meeting in Dubai dubbed COP28, meaning the 28th time that this body has annually met. This group’s task is to drive action on climate change, reducing emissions, and halting global warming. The fact that achieving the goals are painstakingly long because of competing special interests, the greatest of which are oil-rich producing countries who want to keep their petro dollars.


Laudato si’s message is clear: Let’s care for our common home and stop the war against creation. To do that, we must acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges and to join him into this journey for a new direction forward because the old trodden path has led us into this dire predicament. He identified consumerism, irresponsible development, and environmental degradation and global warming as the impetus for a “swift and unified global action.”


The pope’s perspective on poverty is that “those with power who are far removed from the poor, who never meet them and experience their concerns,” need to be held accountable here on earth. He is encouraging everyone to hear the cry of the poor, the most vulnerable and rediscover creation as a gift of love from God and abstain from “ecological sins.” Pope Francis has called on the leaders at the COP28 summit “to listen to science and institute a rapid and equitable transition to end the era of fossil fuel.”


Finally, we ask the same question every day. “Why am I here?” This is the question that drives us to seek for the ultimate truth which is God. Psalm 148 offers us a reminder that nature is powerful and dangerous. It operates according to the laws that God has established for it and humans must respect those laws.

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