An extraordinary Synod, indeed

According to Vatican-speak, a specially scheduled session of the Synod of Bishops is an “Extraordinary Synod,” meaning Not-an-Ordinary Synod, held every three years or so. In the case of the recently-completed Extraordinary Synod of 2014, extraordinary things did happen, in the “Oh, wow!” sense of the word. And if this year’s Extraordinary Synod was a preview of the Synod for which it was to set the agenda, i.e., the Ordinary Synod of 2015, that Synod, too, promises to be, well, extraordinary.

How was the Extraordinary Synod of 2014 extraordinary? With apologies to the Bard, let me count the ways:

1. The 2014 Synod got an extraordinary amount of press attention. Alas, too much of that attention was due to the mass media misperception that The Great Moment of the Long-Awaited Catholic Cave-In was at hand: the moment when the Catholic Church, the last major institutional hold-out against the triumph of the sexual revolution, would finally admit the error of its ways and join the rush into the promised land of sexual liberation, symbolized in this instance by a Catholic cave-in on the nature of marriage. What ought to have gotten the world’s attention – the witness of African bishops to the liberating power of monogamy and lifelong marital fidelity – got sadly short shrift, though Third World women are the principal beneficiaries of the truth about marriage the Church received from its Lord.

2. The 2014 Synod demonstrated the extraordinary self-confidence of bishops from dying local churches who nonetheless feel quite comfortable giving pastoral advice to local churches that are either thriving or holding their own. Many northern European bishops and theologians (and bishop-theologians) acted as if the blissful years when they set the agenda for the world Church at Vatican II had returned. That these same bishops and theologians and bishop-theologians have presided over the collapse of western European Catholicism in the intervening five decades seemed not to matter to them in the slightest. Happy days were here again.

3. The 2014 Synod was extraordinary, or at least the media claimed it was, for an unprecedented public display of discord among cardinals. Perhaps those who found this either unprecedented or unseemly could consult Galatians 2.11, where Paul reports that he “rebuked” Peter “to his face.” Or ponder the fierce arguments among North African bishops during the Donatist controversy. Or look into the quarrel between Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, a doctor of the Church, and Pope Stephen, Bishop of Rome. Or read the debates at the first session of Vatican II. The 2014 controversies were indeed noteworthy, in that otherwise intelligent men whose position had been pretty well demolished by fellow-scholars were incapable of admitting that they’d gotten it wrong. But upon further review (as they say in the NFL), that isn’t so new either.

4. The 2014 Synod was extraordinary in that a lot of theological confusion was displayed by elders of the Church who really ought to know better. The idea of the development of doctrine was especially ill-used by some. Of course the Church’s self-understanding develops over time, as does the Church’s pastoral practice. But as Blessed John Henry Newman showed in the classic modern discussion of the subject, all authentic development is in organic continuity with the past; it’s not a rupture with the past. Nor is there any place in a truly Catholic theory of doctrinal development for rewriting the words of the Lord or describing fidelity to the plain text of Scripture as “fundamentalism.”

5. The 2014 Synod was extraordinary in its demonstration that too many bishops and theologians (and bishop-theologians) still have not grasped the Iron Law of Christianity in Modernity: Christian communities that maintain a firm grasp on their doctrinal and moral boundaries can flourish amidst the cultural acids of modernity; Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries become porous (and then invisible) wither and die.

6. One more thing: why were no representatives of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family invited to a Synod on the family?

Extraordinary, indeed: in both Vatican-speak and plain English.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.