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Our Shared Point of Reference

It’s common these days to lament polarization in the Church. The divisions within the Body of Christ may not be new, but they have become notably more acrimonious in recent years. Many lay the blame on our politics, and it is hard to deny that politics has played an aggravating role in our ecclesial divisions.

But American politics cannot explain why the same divisions besetting the Church in the United States consistently appear in many other countries across the globe. It is hard to blame American political partisanship for ecclesial divisions when much of the global Church, and certainly most of the Church in the West, faces divisions along strikingly similar fault lines.

What I’m getting at is this: while political divisions at home may play an important role in deepening our ecclesial divisions, it seems clear that deep ecclesial divisions are prior to (and to a certain degree, determine) the kinds of political divisions we see in the Church in the United States, at least among Catholics. If that’s the case, then setting aside political disagreements, as bitter and deep as they may be, would not unify Catholics so much as reveal our deepest divisions to be irreducibly anthropological and theological.

How ought the Church respond to this state of affairs? One way is by focusing on what unites us, our strongest foundation, and building from there. This is the idea behind synodality at its best: strengthen communion through broad participation for the sake of mission. And there is a lot of truth in this.

Different members of the Body of Christ, each with his own unique gifts, charism, vocation, or state in life, must learn to work in concert in service to the mission for which we all share responsibility by virtue of our Baptism. This is what people mean when they say synodality is learned by doing it. (It’s what I mean when I describe synodality as Lumen Gentium in action.) Everywhere that the Church is alive and thriving today, this dynamic is present, whether anyone thinks to call it “synodality” or not.

But synodality – even at its best – still presumes a shared point of reference. Synodality, insofar as it describes an ecclesial reality, does not spill into the Church from without but emerges from within. Synodality can only be a fruitful exercise when it is faithful, that is, when it arises from and adheres within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, founded by Christ and handed on through the apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Some of the disagreements over the Synod on Synodality reflect the differing opinions and perspectives of the various members of the People of God across the world. This is to be expected. But the deepest divisions which the Synod has brought to the surface are not reducible to differing points of view. These divisions reflect fundamental disagreements about the very foundations of the Faith itself.


We see this even among bishops and Cardinals, particularly in the developed world, whose increasingly desperate attempts to make the Church “relevant” would lead her to abandon Scripture and Tradition – the Gospel itself – in order to win approval in the eyes of the world.

The Church is God’s chosen means for extending His offer of salvation to a world condemned by its own sin. If this is not true, then the Church is utterly irrelevant. If it is true, then that is all the “relevance” the Church ever needs.

And that brings us to the bishops’ Eucharistic Revival, which they discussed in Baltimore this week. The Eucharistic Revival is not a competitor or alternative to the Synod on Synodality; it is precisely the manifestation of synodality the Church in the United States needs. Rather than focusing on our own squabbles and discontent, we look to the Lord.

The celebration of the Eucharist, the Second Vatican Council insists, is the source and summit of Christian life. In the United States, as has been the case for many years, the vast majority of Catholics cannot be bothered to attend Mass even monthly, let alone every Sunday and Holy Day. Recent studies show that a mere 40 percent of American Catholics believe what the Church teaches about the central reality of the Christian life.

The bishops, under the leadership of Bishop Andrew Cozzens, are making every effort to renew Eucharistic faith and devotion in our nation. They are launching programs of formation, catechesis, and evangelization. They are coordinating plans for Eucharistic pilgrimages spanning the length and breadth of the United States. They are being joined in their efforts by scores of Catholic institutions and ministries, thousands of volunteers and supporters, and an army of faithful Catholics committed to strengthening their faith and to sharing that faith with others.

There simply is no Church without the Eucharist; there is no Good News without the Eucharist! What is the Holy Mass if not the very sacrifice by which we are saved? What is the Blessed Sacrament but the One who saves us by His sacrifice?

If the Church is in need of unity, turn to the Eucharist! If the Church needs spiritual revitalization, turn to the Eucharist! If we would see the Church’s commitment to justice and the works of mercy increase, turn to the Eucharist! If we would be a listening Church, come before the Eucharist and listen to the voice of the Living God!

Pope Francis has said, “Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation.” Our world has inoculated itself against the Good News by rejecting the premise that we have need of saving. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the worthy reception of Holy Communion, the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, we can become living witnesses not only to our need for salvation, but to God’s promise of mercy and salvation. We will be healed. We will be transformed. We will become the missionary disciples we are called to be.

Nothing could be more urgent. Nothing could be more relevant.


*Image: The Defenders of the Eucharist [1] by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1625 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]. Depicted are seven saints who worked to safeguard and promote the Eucharist. On the left are Saints Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great. Saint Clare of Assisi is in the center and next to her are Saints Thomas Aquinas (bareheaded), Norbert, and Jerome.

You may also enjoy:

St. Thomas Aquinas’ The Eucharist: sharing in His divinity [2]

Brad Miner’s Source and Summit: Bishop Barron’s “The Mass” [3]

Stephen P. White is executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America and a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.