Pope Francis prays during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 29, 2023, marking the conclusion of the first session of the Synod of Bishops on synodality (CNS photo/Lola Gomez).

In our preparatory document outlining broad guidelines for the Synod on Synodality, we wrote that the synodal process would require “remaining open to the surprises that the Spirit will certainly prepare for us along the way.” This was right and just. However, it is also crucial for Catholics to remain open to the possibility that nothing will surprise us at all.

Many delicate issues were raised in our discussions during this month-long Synod, and many areas of divergence were identified. For instance, we know that, in many places, Catholics are frustrated by the Church’s continued insistence on condemning and excluding LGBTQ people. But we also recognize that there are other places in the world where it is still very popular to condemn and exclude LGBTQ people. And so, we must ask, if no powerful person in a society is willing to stand up for the dignity of LGBTQ people, could that not also be the voice of the Spirit (not) speaking in that society? Is it the role of the Church to ask its clergy to stop using their authority to hurt people? Or is it rather the role of the Church to tolerate all points of view—those that say gay people are beloved by God, those that prefer not to talk about it at all, and those that say gay people should be put to death—with a patient attitude of fellowship as we journey together in the Spirit? But, you may be saying, how can we move forward with integrity so long as our Church’s official teaching denies the reality of gay and transgender lives and offers them no credible path to truth? Ah, we respond, shaking our heads sadly: We know, but you should see how much worse it is in some other places!

LGBTQ people have waited so long for acknowledgment and respect, which is why we are confident they can keep on waiting.

LGBTQ people have waited so long for acknowledgment and respect, which is why we are confident they can keep on waiting. They inspire us with their waiting! Similarly, we are inspired by the patience of women. Women, so complementary to us. Women, so nearly capable of imaging Christ, and yet, it seems, not quite what Jesus had in mind. Sometimes it seems as though they will be waiting forever! And yet, in truth, much progress has been made. Why, there was a time when the precise status of the hymen of the Virgin Mary was a major preoccupation of Holy Mother Church’s most important theologians. And now that subject only comes up occasionally, and mostly in bulletin inserts written by total weirdos. Are those weirdos priests in good standing? Often they are. Do they have to listen to any woman who might find their musings demeaning? Not officially, no. But still! Progress!

We will gather again next year to take up these and many other matters. In the meantime, dioceses around the world are encouraged to gather input from all of their people, but they are not required, or frankly even expected, to do so. Conservatives will murmur about diabolism in Rome. It’s all part of journeying together! We trust in the Spirit, who, as the Apostle says, intercedes with groaning when we are lost for words. And we trust that someday, someone will be able to make us listen to that groaning, but—and this is key—not until we are all ready to do something about it.

And so, in the spirit of St. Augustine, we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit...but not yet.” Amen!

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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