My ‘What to Do about the Synod’ Checklist

Note: Brad Miner’s rich account yesterday of art in Rome and today’s somewhat light-hearted recommendations for what to do in this silly season in the Church remind us that, though we are always in a spiritual battle and confronted with serious controversies, we have to live as a redeemed people for whom God’s goodness, truth, and beauty are still present in our world. At The Catholic Thing, we’ve always strived to bring you that fullness of the Faith without neglecting more painful matters. You can click here, for instance, to listen to our latest podcast with Francis X. Maier on the U.S. bishops’ annual meeting last week. And while you’re at it, please don’t forget also to click the Donate button. We’re in the midst of our year-end fundraising. And it’s up to you whether we can continue to bring you the full range of things we do in the coming year. It’s easy. Fast. Tax-deductible. Just a click. Do it. – Robert Royal 

When not in Rome, don’t do as the Romans do. Even when in Rome (these days), don’t do as the Romans do. The recent Synod ought to have at least temporarily disproved the old adage, which came from St. Ambrose’s advice on fasting, which eventually became a maxim of ecclesiastical law.

These days, however, I’m sure St. Ambrose would have a different opinion. Nearly fifty years ago,  John Senior described how the faithful were struggling “in the face of an indescribable silliness” in the Church. What he would say of the Synod’s deliberations.

Silliness, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is used to describe persons “lacking in judgement or common sense,” who are “characterized by ridiculous or frivolous behaviour,” and whose actions might have “a comical appearance” and cause “amusement or derision.”

The Synod seems to be a tour de force of what it means when an assembly is “lacking in judgement or common sense,” whose actions cause “amusement or derision.” Yet for all the bellyaching of the conservative media – most certainly justified – what do we, in fact, do?

Because at the end of the day, the silliness is not at all harmless: it’s parasitic, as Randall Smith so nicely pointed out in his submissive updating.

So what do we do, on the ground, when parasitic silliness isn’t just “what’s done” in Rome but might be forced down our own throats? In fact, what do we do when the “discerning” of the synod turns into deciding “what it means to be Catholic now”?

Turns out that “what it means” is that “anything you can discern, I can discern better.” Why? Well, because you believe the truth is relative, while I’ve got tradition – and logic – on my side.

So, on the ground, here are seven things we can do to fight off the parasitic discernment-deciding which seems to want us to rob us of our humanity and Catholicity. In fact, I have a “synod checklist” for what I’ve discerned is the silliness we need today.

  1. Practice subversive acts of kindness.

You know, like telling people that truth is an absolute, and buying them coffee, and even praying for them. I love the idea of accompaniment. . .with a twist: accompaniment to beauty. What if we were to accompany people to the symphony, to the art gallery, to the Scott Hahn reading group, or adoration chapel?

  1. Pray some cozily archaic and rigid prayers.

Speaking of prayer, it’s high time we brought back our favorite little Divine Office books, said some Rosaries, and maybe even do a Novena. Wouldn’t hurt if it were in Latin. Or Greek. Or Old Church Slavonic. Or even from the Book of Common Prayer. All tastes are welcome here. This isn’t to say formulas are the only way to pray; but they exist for good reason.

  1. Read some dodgy books.

 The mind needs exercise, and won’t always recognize truth if it doesn’t see evil as well. So it’s time to go to your bookstore and purchase some dodgy literature by authors like Machiavelli, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Orwell. While you’re there, however, don’t forget a few less dodgy ones like Homer, Dante, Tolkien, and Lewis. Never hurts to commune with a few great minds from the past few thousand years. After all, didn’t Pope Francis challenge “young people in particular” to “begin exploring your heritage” by reading works from the Church’s “unsurpassed cultural patrimony”?

  1. Blast some good music.

Turn up the Gregorian chant and polyphony. Show those bad boys in Rome (and Germany and everywhere else) what’s really hip these days. It never hurts to throw in a little Renaissance Jazz, either. If you’re not convinced of its usefulness, Sebastian Morello recently explained how folk music can begin to “break the spell of modernity.”

  1. Run around and shoot a few things.

Fresh air never hurt anyone. Go for a run, and do some pushups. And get a gun and practice your marksmanship. Perhaps even bag a deer. Whichever way things turn out, running, shooting, and hunting might come in handy if the Feds and the Synods keep encroaching. It might also teach you something about reality.

  1. Arrange some marriages.

 This might be one of the more important points on my list. Get them youngins together. Remind them that their attraction for each other is good and proper. Give them all the help and support they need to become holier and happier versions of themselves in faithful marriage, well able to hand on to their (numerous) children the gift of the faith. Killing two synod checklist points with one sketchy move, you might even score some “subversive acts of kindness” points by giving them books on treasuring marriage.

  1. Get off your phone.

The news is bad and the entertainment worse. It all comes to you through that little pocket palantir of yours. But really, the best reason to get off your phone is so that the web stops “curating your sense of reality” by allowing your will to float free, untethered from reality. As Samuel D. James has commented, the Web is “a disembodied habitat, a plausibility structure for the feeling that there is no givenness to reality, there is simply individual will.” It’s a teacher of “expressive individualism,” then; the online “world” is a place where unreality will always make sense. And we don’t need to add that to our list of problems.

So to sum up: we needn’t do as the Romans are doing right now. We have concrete things we can do on the ground that will sabotage the “reform” of the Church into a Synodal blob of goop.

We’ve got our own silliness, as described above – one that John Senior would be proud of, consisting of traditional prayer, diverse study, gymnastics, turning up the woofer on Mozart, marrying and giving in marriage, and even a little digital detox.

That’s my “on the ground” synod to-do checklist. What’s yours?


*Image: Purification of the Temple by El Greco, c. 1600 [ The Frick Collection, New York, NY]

You may also enjoy:

David G Bonagura, Jr.’s Cursing and Christian Living

Francis X. Maier’s Enough Is Enough


A musician specializing in Renaissance lute, Julian Kwasniewski is also an artist, graphic designer, and writer. He has been published in numerous venues including The Catholic Herald, Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, and Crisis Magazine. You can find some of his artwork and music on Etsy and YouTube.