A few weeks ago, a survey about Sunday Mass attendance was carried out. The results are not published yet but reflection on the issue needs to go beyond them.
The survey tells us where we are and this is extremely important because that is from where we have to begin. Often we start from where we should be, but this is never useful. On the other hand, simply knowing where we are won’t help either.
We have theories to explain why we are where we are rather than where we would like to be. Some of these could even be valid but not all are, and probably there are many other theories that would not even have crossed our minds but which would be at the back of the mind of those who have left the Church.
Pope Francis gives great importance to listening to the people. In preparation for the Synod on the Family he was not interested in how many people agreed with the Church’s teachings about family life; he was interested in listening to what the people had to say about them.
To attain his end, an open-ended questionnaire was made available online. The exercise is being repeated in preparation for the Synod on Youth. A similar exercise was done in Malta as a preparation on the occasion of the local synod towards the end of the 1990s.
Psychologists Henry Bingham and Joseph Luft drew our attention to what they called “the hidden area” in each of us. It is a side of ourselves to which we are blind but which everybody else notices.
The Maltese saying about the camel’s hump is well known. The Church too has its blind zones. These hidden zones can be enlightened by listening to feedback. An open-ended questionnaire would make this possible.
The Church too has its blind zones. These can be enlightened by listening to feedback
Such an exercise would expose the Church not only to the feedback of people who love it; it would also expose it to those who love it less or are or were aggrieved by it. It is also true that some manipulate such openness – very much like blogging is manipulated – and these are found on both sides of the divide. Still, it is always useful to listen to everybody.
Not all the feedback would be useful. Even many holy people have fixed ideas of how the Church should be, often wanting it to be as it was before the Vatican Council II. Most of the time, these people would not be realising that they need the security of rigid rules. They would not follow Christ as he walks on water!
Notwithstanding, seeking honestly demands listening to everybody’s feedback, without censoring. The Church would still need to discern which feedback is helpful and which is not, but the temptation to dismiss lightly what is not liked is to be resisted.
Even feedback coming from odious quarters could be conveying important messages. If anything, it would be telling the Church how it looks in their eyes. The fact that there could be something wrong with their eyesight would be irrelevant.
Ultimately, even negative feedback betrays a hidden love. If this love were lacking, rather than giving feedback, these people would simply ignore the Church.
Such an exercise could be frightening and dangerous and it requires a great deal of courage on the part of the Church. Still, this is no reason for not going ahead with it. The recurring mantra of the Bible is: “Do not be afraid!” Those who have great faith are not.
Fr Alfred Micallef is a member of the Society of Jesus.
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