What is the warm, beating heart of Christian ethics? To cleave to Jesus Christ, wherever He goes, whatever He does. Sometimes that will mean standing as the witness to staggering glory, as at the Transfiguration. Or wondering at miracles of healing and forgiveness. At the end of time, it will mean being gathered to help judge the nations, as Christ returns in glory.
But most of the time, for most of us, in this fallen world cleaving to Christ means helping Him carry the cross. Or standing with Mary at Calvary, getting spat on by the crowds and menaced by Caesar’s soldiers. And seeking out the innocent who have been scapegoated by worldly powers as Jesus was, tending their wounds, defending their rights, championing their dignity by joining them at the margins where the “nice people” won’t go — whether that’s the abortion mills in our major cities, the villages of Afghanistan, the prison camps in East Turkestan, or the embattled front lines in Ukraine.
We can judge whether the recent Synod at the Vatican, and Pope Francis’ statements surrounding it, are authentically Catholic (or even Christian) by applying this criterion.
Historically, the Church has summoned gatherings of its shepherds in answer to some crisis — either a deep doctrinal confusion or a pattern of corruption which needed to be corrected. Such meetings were often contentious, as learned theologians debated the finer points of doctrine. It wasn’t always obvious how to balance our affirmation of Christ’s full divinity and humanity, or His sonship to the Father that still entailed co-equal Godhood.
So what crisis in society, in the Church, occasioned the recent Synod that Pope Francis summoned at the Vatican, which gathered handpicked bishops and carefully vetted laymen chosen by local elites? Which basic Christian doctrine was under challenge, and needed defending? Which corrupt or destructive practice required correction by Christ’s chosen shepherds? And what response did Pope Francis offer to such challenges and practices?
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