The Synod on Synodality: A meeting on meetings
As anyone with access to Catholic social media knows, this month the Pope is meeting with bishops, priests, religious, and lay representatives from around the world in what has been designated as the first phase of the Synod on Synodality.
We have been informed that the second phase will take place at this time next year. Having heard from many of you during the past week regarding your concerns and observations of the earliest goings-on in Rome, I, too, share your confusion at what has been presented as well as by the novelty of the participants who are comprised not exclusively of bishops, whose grace of ordination includes the three principle duties (munera) of teaching, governing, and sanctifying the Church. The novelty of this approach is that this initial gathering is intended to be more about listening so that we might develop our way of being the Church.
This is a welcome endeavor and project for the entire Church to undergo, especially after the almost sixty years since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council that began a period of renewal and development in the Church’s life in areas of liturgy, mission, family life, and sacramental theology and doctrine. The pontificates of each subsequent pope, St. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, have each contributed to this renewal through encyclicals, exhortations, and homilies. Pope Francis stood upon these developments and has now emphasized the importance of listening as an identifiable activity of the entire Church.
This activity of listening is twofold: first, listening to Christ through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and second, listening to the entire People of God: clergy, religious, and laity who each offer insights into the authentic lived faith as well as the need for ongoing conversion and deeper understanding of the truth as revealed fully in Jesus Christ. For us to appreciate this twofold activity of listening called for by the Synodal process, I invite you to review the Diocesan Synthesis Report of our own participation and contribution to the Synodal process in listening to the Holy Spirit and to each other. You can find this report on the Diocese’s website. The report describes how 3,311 participants took part in 112 listening sessions held throughout the Diocese in keeping with the expectations articulated by the USCCB for that phase of the Synod. These listening sessions were conducted in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and ASL (American Sign Language). Most importantly, each session, including the diocesan listening session, began with prayer, Adoration, or Mass.
All of us as baptized members of the Catholic Church must begin with listening. It is basic that we begin our listening to Christ in His words spoken in the Gospels, and to the Word of God proclaimed in all Sacred Scripture. It is important that we follow by listening to the almost 2,000-year authentic Magisterium on Faith and Morals that has developed in articulating a deeper understanding of the Revelation of Christ. This is especially true regarding the nature of the human person as a member of a family, society, and the Church. If we begin with this type of listening, we can listen and understand each other better and, in listening to each other, come to understand the Word of God and the Church’s authentic teaching with better insight.
Some mistakenly perceive listening as a kind of demanding that God ratify disordered desires for what cannot possibly be blessed. If we try this kind of listening without listening first with the Holy Spirit to the truth of Christ’s own words, we will do more talking than listening in our life as the Church, while becoming miserably indifferent to the Ten Commandments and the complete message of Christ. The Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself on these elements; we should not demand that the Holy Spirit do so.