This week in Thailand saw two monks stirring up a debate. They held a dharma talk live on social media and peppered it with humour, laughter, and youthful slang words. It attracted 200,000 followers, mostly the young who found the style, refreshing. But it also provoked criticism from those who found that it was inappropriate and disrespectful towards the religion. Two opinions at war.
I read with some interest the Preparatory Document from Rome for the Synod 2021-2023, “For a synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission”. Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission as we journey the third millennium. “The synodal journey unfolds within a historical context marked by epochal changes in society and by a crucial transition in the life of the Church”. To my simple understanding: Times have changed, how are we as Church to continue reaching out? This will certainly prompt many opinions.
We are called to “scrutinise the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel”. (Vatican Council II)
It’s natural for everyone to have different opinions. Many opinions formed around one central theme is very good. It allows for a wider, all age encompassing, more inclusive way forward. It will help with us “journeying together”, one of the central approaches for a synodal church. Different opinions can live with one another provided they sprout from a common root. When we begin exchanging our opinions about our Church, it must be rooted in the one constant that has remained unchanged throughout the millenniums: the Love of God.
The question for me today is, “How is this love of God best expressed to people in these times?” If we were around during the Old Testament, we would realise that the expression of God’s love among the people has changed, drastically perhaps, but his love itself has not. Today for some, it may be better received, and understood, through social media punctuated with humour, laughter, and slangs. But acceptably, not for everyone.
Some of us were raised through tradition. Some find comfort in rituals. Some schooled in doctrines and catechism. The call is not so much to let these go but rather to add on to these foundations. Pope John Paul II popularised the call for the New Evangelisation as far back as 1983 amidst the challenges of secularisation. Prophetic. Today our human behaviour has been further altered by social media and the yet unknown full impact of the pandemic. So today we must heed this call to express this love of God with a new ardour, through new methods and expressions. How do we determine these?
“Where do these wars and where do conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? (Today’s Second Reading)
In “journeying together” we must be prepared to first listen to one another and allow the Holy Spirit to lead. Differing opinions can create silent wars among ourselves. We have seen enough of this in our daily life, supressing the flow of love from one to the other.
‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ (Gospel)
Opinions matter. Opinions help. But always having it only ‘my way’ doesn’t. Though this was much about the Church moving forward, it applies to our everyday life simply because the Church is in each one of us. Be childlike and welcome the other. Allow that Church in us to formulate our opinions.
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time