“We’ve always done it that way.”
Nothing shuts down innovation faster than that phrase. Whether uttered in dismay or as a sharp retort, it shutters creativity. And it has the potential to close us off to inspiration, to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Catechesis, for example, has floundered in some parishes on the shores of “same old, same old” since the pandemic curtailed in-person programming in 2020.
Dr. Tracey Lamont, who holds a doctoral degree in religious education, laments the impulse to “return to normal” in the years since. During a visit to Louisville recently, she noted that the pre-pandemic norm “wasn’t working before.”
“People were leaving the church,” said Lamont, director of the New Orleans-based Loyola Institute for Ministry.
Renewal in catechesis, she said, is “ripe for synodality.”
That word, synodality, is almost ever-present among church leaders at the moment. In October, Catholic leaders from around the world, including lay people, will join Pope Francis at the Vatican for a gathering of the Synod on Synodality. It will be a meeting (synod) focused on becoming a synodal church, one that journeys together, listening and discerning as the Body of Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit.
“The aim is not to provide a temporary or one-time experience of synodality, but rather to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term,” says the synod’s website, www.synod.va.
Under Pope Francis’ leadership, the universal church endeavors to practice a new kind of decision-making. Can that help us, too?
Lamont believes it can.
“Listening is hard,” she said during her Louisville visit Sept. 20, noting that’s particularly true when a program you created faces criticism. “But we can do it with charity and love.
“We’ve got to try to open ourselves to each other,” she continued. “We have to know each other, we have to form meaningful relationships with our people. Because that’s why they stay.”
And she’s seen it work, she added.
“This year I’m hearing people ready to innovate and get creative. That gives me hope,” she said. “Those who are doing this — they’re getting tremendous energy from it.”
If synodality can help renew catechesis, it may help the church navigate other changes, too.
The pro-life movement is facing major shifts — from an effort largely focused on changing abortion policy to a broader array of concerns. The Archdiocese of Louisville’s pro-life events coordinator, Stuart Hamilton, is encouraging a “love them both” approach to help eliminate reliance on abortion. This approach envisions assistance and policy changes that would aid women and children.
At the same time, he’s hoping pro-lifers will also look at the broader spectrum of respect life issues — from conception to natural death.
Concern for the dignity of human life is often divided in the Catholic church along political lines. But with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and increasingly bipartisan support for ending the death penalty, those lines are beginning to blur. That’s good news for human life.
To unite Catholics on these issues will take more than blurred lines, though. It will require an openness to listening and discerning as people of God — synodality.
At the heart of this process — and of navigating any change in the church synodally — is a reliance on the movement of the Holy Spirit.
That’s not something we can do if we’re stuck on doing things the way we always have.
May we eschew the “same old, same old” and respond with the openness we need to find renewal in our faith, innovation for our ministry and vision for the journey ahead.