In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the people and his disciples: “You must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi…. You must call no one on earth your father… Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers…” Do not be guided by those like the scribes and Pharisees: “All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honour at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’”
As scripture scholar Brendan Byrne writes in his book Lifting the Burden:
Scarcely any injunction of the Lord has been so ignored as this ruling out of titles and, by extension, accoutrements of dress and ceremonial. The very appearance of such an instruction in the Gospel suggests an intention to nip in the bud tendencies in this direction already underway in the Matthean community. The instruction to live as brothers and sisters under the one Father in heaven, each striving to emulate the ‘servant’ rank and role modelled by Christ, has fought a losing battle against the tendency to institutionalise and socially elevate leadership figures. One wonders why the Church felt free to ignore literal fulfilment of Christ’s clear injunctions in this area, while taking others—for example, the sayings on divorce—with legal rigour.
The next phase of the Church’s Synod of Synodality drew to a close last weekend. There has been a lot of praise for Pope Francis convening a synod where participants sat at round tables. Of the 363 eligible to vote, fifty-four were women. That’s a record—15 percent—but not much to write home about. As the Synthesis Report noted: “Women make up most of those in our pews.” Yes, there were fifty-four women with voting rights, but also fifty-four cardinals. Though everyone sat at round tables, the clerics appeared in full clerical attire—and the zucchettos, the small skull caps, were always worn, marking the clear order of precedence: white for the pope, red for cardinals, and violet for bishops.
On the last day, the participants voted on the proposals put forward in the forty-one-page synthesis document, which had been amended about a thousand times. Of the eighty-one proposals voted on, the most “no” votes came for the paragraphs on female deacons.
The Synthesis Report makes it clear that local churches are now to take up the issues raised, engaging in spiritual conversation and discernment, so that Synod participants can return to Rome in a year’s time. “Taking their starting point from the convergences already reached, [episcopal conferences] are called to focus on the questions and proposals that are considered most urgent.”