ANOTHER CHURCH IS POSSIBLE!
By: Kochurani Abraham
Ever since the World Social Forum started in 2001, its slogan Another World is Possible has caught global attention. This slogan found an alluring echo across the world as it gave expression to a radical change in the consciousness of the people on the margins, of their refusal to remain victims anymore! These aspirations of the oppressed masses and their animators, found a collective force as the World Social Forum created a space for civil society organizations, advocacy campaigns and social movements seeking justice, liberation and international solidarity to come together. It gathered the voices of silenced humans and of the earth, to envision an alternative future by championing for counter hegemonic policies in theory and praxis. Feeling the pulse of these happenings in the secular sphere, I am inclined to think that in a similar vein, something is unfolding also in the Church. Perhaps synodality is inviting us to re-imagine
the way of being Church and assert that Another Church is Possible!
Why do we need to make this assertion? The urgency to rethink Church is being voiced by diverse groups ever since the synodal process was flagged off in different parts of the world. The notion of synodality and the process leading to it has been termed a “quiet revolution” that contains the seeds of fundamental change in the way of being Church (We are Church, Ireland). Though it is only a miniscule of the Catholic population who are wanting this revolution, I think this is a decisive voice. It is a voice that has the potency to bring about change, as it is raised from critical considerations on what it means to be Church.
A basic structural problem identified by many who seek transformation in the way of being Church is the problematic of hierarchy. Since clericalized hierarchical structuring is central to the Church for Catholics, leadership and decision making remain in the hands of clergy. Ipso facto the laity, particularly women, do not find a place in leadership, and there exists in the Church a strong clergy laity divide. Even though Pope Francis has appointed a few women to leading posts in the Vatican, this could remain the visionary initiatives of a charismatic Pope, which will fade off once his term of leadership is over. I think a critical question that we need to ask before this system of clericalized hierarchy is: Does the Church need clerical ordination as the criterion for anyone to occupy a place in its structures of leadership? Though this is the structural axis defining governance in the Church over the centuries, on the basis of scriptural evidence the answer would be a clear ‘No’.
It is evident from Church history that the linkage between priestly ordination and jurisdiction is a historical making, yet, this phenomenon has become so deep rooted in the Catholic tradition that it cannot be easily dismantled. By giving a theological coating to make the ordination jurisdiction linkage palatable, the ordained clergymen acquired the status of Alter-Christus/another Christ, a notion that got deeply engraved in the mind and belief systems of the ordinary Christian faithful. Because of the sacramental powers which the clergy have been vested with and the sense of superiority attributed to them by the faithful, clericalism became the inevitable by-product of such clericalized hierarchy. Even though clericalism has been strongly condemned by Pope Francis and many who want to bring about a radical transformation in the Church, this will never happen unless and until ordination and jurisdiction are delinked. And it is apparent that as long as clericalized hierarchy continues to be the mode of governance in the Catholic Church, we need not expect accountability, transparency or any form of justice from the Church leadership for the survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
It is against this backdrop of clericalism that the notion of synodality is certainly hope-giving for women and other excluded categories in the Church. For the Church to tread on the synodal path, it needs to shed its feudal ways, the patriarchal diktats and its paternalistic approach that keep the laity, particularly women, infantilized. The Church needs to move from its mechanistic, cultic, institutionalized structures of being and living its mission, to an organic worldview that sees everything as interdependent and mutually constituting. If these structural changes are not initiated, the synodal process could remain a mere cosmetic touch up on the ecclesiastical body, a text that does not permeate into the texture of the way of being Church after the mind of Christ.
Synodality is a call for the Church to be ‘born again’ as pointed out forcefully by Jesus when he spoke about
embracing the new vision of the Reign of God. If the Church is to be born again as the Body of Christ, its clerical, hierarchical and exclusive structures need to give way to an organizational system founded on equality, mutuality and on the undeniable potential of every person, irrespective of one’s gender identity or sexual orientation to represent and mediate the divine. Transforming the present ecclesiastical institution to an inclusive, egalitarian and participatory way of being Church, may seem an utopian dream but a breakthrough could be possible if we are ready to respond to these calls radically and with integrity.
1. Call to prophecy
When we look through the scriptures or turn the pages of secular history, we find prophecy getting activated when the going gets tough and there is an urgency for bringing about liberative changes. Prophets discern the ways of God, or to put it in very secular terms, they become the voice of truth, love and justice that challenge the violation of these values within and outside a given system. Perhaps we are living through a phase in the history of the Church when prophetic voices need to be raised with a sense of urgency. Prophecy is disturbing, but it is imperative if the Church has to regain its founding vision and spirit. In today’s Church, prophetic voices need to be raised in the form of disquieting questions. Prophecy is not a comfortable engagement as it implies unsettling the established tyrannical order. A classic illustration of the prophetic mission that is needed for the Church today, is the prophet Nathan boldly saying to King David, “You are that man!” (2 Sam. 12:7).
Prophetic mission involves the risk of getting exterminated, silenced, ostracized or just deleted from the picture. No establishment in the secular or religious sphere is sympathetic to prophetic interventions and that is the reason why very few individuals or organizations dare to be prophetic. Yet there are prophetic icons in our midst who lead people’s movements for the cause of justice, peace and liberation, for humans and for the earth. Within the ecclesiastical establishment, the survivors of clergy sexual abuse who have dared to speak up and who demand justice are live wires that are awakening prophecy in the Church today.
The prophetic task before us then is: “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” as Jeremiah was told, even as he resisted this call saying he was too young and diffident. Can we be this prophetic presence within the Church that it can return to the Gospel vision in its structures and ways of functioning?
2. Call to Spirituality
I find an awakened spirituality being the undercurrent that activates a prophetic vocation. Prophecy and spirituality are deeply connected because prophets are attuned to the ways of the Spirit in the world around them, in the unfolding events and in the promptings within their hearts.
Most of the religious establishments have become commercial enterprises selling ‘spiritual’ products, They seek to bind the spirit and lock up the Divine in male bodies, decorated temples and tabernacles and blind ritualism, and the Church is no exception to this. However, Spirit-Sophia who is the breath of God and who pervades and permeates all things, continues Her work of creating and recreating life by defending the dignity and wellbeing of all. True spirituality implies making the shift from Church centered ritualism to the celebration of life on the cosmic table, bringing in the marginalized, the excluded and all the elements of the earth in an open fellowship. Living spirituality as a dance to the tunes of the Spirit then becomes an anti-dote to the cultic, male mediated religiosity. Many people around the world are already joining this cosmic dance of life!
The challenge before us is to flow with the energies of the Spirit, beyond the binaries of the sacred and the secular, the body and the mind/spirit, the male and the female, and become co-creators with Sophia in birthing the Church anew.
3. Call to Community
The Church modelled after the mind and heart of Christ needs to become a community of equal discipleship. Some women and men are already creating these communities that are inclusive and open, fluid and life affirming.
We have many examples of these in the ‘We are Church’ movement and other groups that have initiated a new way of being Church in the world today.
These communities which embody what it means to be the ‘Church in the Round’, a Church grounded in people’s
lives become therapeutic spaces that bring healing and growth. Through the assertion that ‘women are Church’; ‘indigenous people are Church’, ‘the poor are Church’, ‘migrants and refugees are Church’; ‘divorced/ remarried are Church’, ‘LGBTQI+ are Church’, these communities become liminal spaces at the boundaries and at the threshold, making them the right setting for a transformative transition. In these communities, which become liberative spaces, power is shared and leadership emerges from below, where people imbued with the wisdom of the Spirit can give lead in organizing the community’s life and mission.
With the emergence of these communities, the Church becomes a communion of communities where people irrespective of their differences, find a sense of belonging, and partnership becomes real, reflecting the kinship
politics of the Reign of God initiated by Jesus Christ. This needs to happen on the synodal path. Synodality can become
a lived experience only when people become synodal in their personal lives in all its truthfulness. Then the Church becomes a synodal Church where Christians truly walk together in spite of their differences, in communion with each other, with other humans and the earth.
To conclude, an imagery that comes to my mind as I ponder on the caption ‘Another Church is Possible!’ is the imagery of Mary Magdalene and her companions walking to the tomb, while it was still dark. We too are walking to a tomb where the Church, which is meant to be the living body of Christ, is continually crucified by the abuse of power and is buried and sealed using the stone of dead tradition, and religious imperialism. This body of Christ needs to be resurrected. We walk to the tomb while it is still dark and on encountering the Risen One, we hear the mandate to announce the Resurrection to our ‘hierarchically positioned brothers’, that another Church is possible!
“Another World is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing!” wrote Arundhati Roy. Paraphrasing her, I am tempted to say: Another Church is possible, it is being born! In a quiet moment, I hear Sophia whispering: can you midwife this birthing…?*
The Original Publication: Another Church is Possible!