In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others.
– George Seferis
The title of our synodal synthesis document, “Toward a Community of Communities,” comes from the final published work of the late scholar and theologian Gabriel Moran (1935–2021), What Happened to the Roman Catholic Church? What Now? Moran’s self-described “institutional and personal memoir” takes readers through the shifting currents of the Catholic Church over the past 75 years, with a special focus on how historical trends both within the church and society at large have shaped its understanding of community.
“There is no going back to the 1950s,” he writes, “but those Catholics have a legitimate point who think that the experience of community needs to be revived for the church to have a vibrant future.” Elsewhere, he laments how “the parish, instead of being a communal expression of the great community, [has] tended to become just the local subdivision of the large organization.” As a corrective to this, he advocates for a “community of communities”: an interdependent network of small groups of 8 to 10 people with a rotating, democratic leadership structure—a pattern of hierarchical authority “imagined as circular rather than as layers of a pyramid.” Such an organizational structure would bridge the ideal of the universal church and its particular embodiment within each individual community.
To varying degrees, the collective discernment process of our synodal listening session supports these intuitions. Our synthesis document demonstrates that people of faith do not want change for its own sake, but rather to renew the sacramental, mystical, and communal dimensions of Catholicism that have been diminished in the name of institutional efficiency. In recovering these, we may create the spaces of personal and social transformation necessary for the church to continue Christ’s work in the world. ♦