Speak Bold, Listen Carefully | Commonwealth Magazine

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In the middle of the morning came the opportunity to model the synodal method, when we divided ourselves into small pre-assigned linguistic groups of about twenty people each, composed of heads of curia (there were three heads of dicastery in my English group “E”), diocesan bishops, Rome-based religious, the odd ecumenical guest and lay people of all kinds. Our facilitator invited us to talk about how the “walking together” has happened (or not) in our local church, and our hopes and fears for the worldwide synodal process.

The method was interesting. After the presentations, we reflected in silence for five minutes, preparing our contribution. Each person spoke for a maximum of three minutes. Then came five more minutes of silent reflection. Then, after rereading their notes, each person shared for two more minutes everything that had enlightened or resonated with them. (The advice we were given beforehand invited us to think about what the Spirit seemed to call us to, what paths were opening up, and to notice “inner spiritual movements” of joy or sadness, anxiety or of trust, consolation or desolation.), there was a free time of about twenty minutes to “discern and elaborate the synthesis”, which would be written as a verbal to be sent to the synod secretariat.

It was striking that senior Vatican officials – cardinals and bishops – offered theological extracts, while religious and lay people spoke of experiences. The sound bites were good: Francis was giving the Church permission to be what Lumen gentium considered; synodality was the antidote to individualism and tribal division; we now had the chance to rediscover the original way of “being Church”, allowing decisions to spring from below. But the experiences were much more compelling, especially those of the nuns who described the efforts of their orders to become more synod in the way they govern and make decisions. It meant, they said, a shift in mindset and culture, accepting a greater degree of uncertainty and tension than many were comfortable with. Yet building prayer and listening into the processes had led to an increased awareness of the margins, more unity and joy, and greater humility. They spoke of the temptation of worldliness, of falling into an overbearing attempt to present an outward face of uniformity and efficiency, rather than accepting their conflicts and uncertainties and waiting from Spirit for answers. emerging.

As they spoke, it seemed obvious that synodality and holiness were intertwined, that a Synodal Church better reflects, as Francis has just told us, “the style of God, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness. “. In my small group, I saw no tongue of fire. But looking back on the experience afterwards, it felt authentic, as if this is how the Church should be: where cardinals, bishops, religious and lay people listen to each other as equals. on “an open place where everyone can feel at home and participate”.

And then, almost immediately, I felt sad at the thought of the estrangement of so many of our dioceses and parishes from this culture, and how the many non-synodal structures of the Church would soon be deployed to resist it. .

The next morning in St. Peter’s – my first papal mass in over a year because of Covid – Francis officially opened the synod. It was gently cheerful, in anticipation, but without fanfare. The gospel reading was about Jesus meeting a rich man on the road. Jesus, says Francis in his usual homily habit of choosing three words, met him, listened to him, and helped him discern what to do. Likewise, in this synodal process: we need to be present to others, to listen with the heart and not to judge. “Let’s not silence our hearts; let’s not be barricaded in our certainties, ”he urged. Jesus called us, as he called the rich young man, “to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our introverted and outdated pastoral models; and ask ourselves what God wants to tell us at this time.

The day before, in his synodal address, Francis had mentioned the neglect of Adoration, and he mentioned it again now, in his homily, where he spoke of the importance of “devoting time to Adoration” . The repetition annoyed me. Why evoke this form of prayer which is so dear to him – he practices it every evening at 9 p.m. without fail – in connection with the synod? Then I realized: Worship is synodal prayer par excellence, because that’s where we awaken to our free will. When we are present to Jesus, in communion with him in the Eucharist, we are known, recognized and loved. We to participate.

Attend committee meetings Over the next few days, I couldn’t help but be struck by the fragility of the Synod’s infrastructure compared to the breadth of its ambition. No secular organization would ever start such a big business with so few resources and with so little preparation. The small synod leadership team, recently reinforced by a new experienced communications director, Thierry Bonaventura, is superb, and it is supported by four commissions: spirituality, theology, methodology and communications. But most of the commission members are now meeting in person for the first time, and the scale of what needs to be done seems absurd.

In the Communications Committee, we take up the challenges, starting with unfamiliar terminology. How to define the synod when it is both the permanent institution in Rome and the process which has just been launched? How to make it understood that this is a process of transformation, a synod conversion whose fruit is a change of culture, while communicating that it is an unconditioned process, open to the solicitations of the Spirit? How to explain that, while everything can be discussed and raised, only the bishops vote and the Pope decides? How to deal with false expectations and misplaced fears? We work hard, write documents, bring in the Vatican film crews to do mock interviews with members of the methodological commission. But it seems surprising to do everything a few days before the opening of the diocesan phase.

And yet, when at lunch the next day, a seasoned Vatican official tells me that it makes no sense for the Pope to launch such an ambitious process during what he calls the “declining chapter” of the pontificate, I do not do not agree. Francis has built this over the past eight years, I say, teaching us synodality in speeches and documents and bishops’ gatherings to fight big issues like family, youth and the Amazon. He decided to bring together the people of God now, to invite them into the synodal process as subjects of discernment, for he saw a kairos, an opportune time. After more than a year of frightening self-isolation and closed churches, what better time to bring the faithful together in listening to the Spirit? From a worldly point of view, it seems impossible, I say, but who is responsible here? What did it look like when Saint John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council?

The next day, during a joint meeting of the Jesuit Curia commissions, tensions surfaced. Theologians – there are some big names here – worry that they have not been given a clear mandate to develop a theology of synodality. Some members of spirituality fear that these meetings themselves are insufficiently synodal. How to develop a synod habitus with meetings this long and rich in content? Such frustrations are part of the synod experience, which is always, as one Jesuit puts it, a “race against time”.

Nowhere is this more true than in what will be the extremely complex task of distilling what has been said and experienced. Latin Americans, who have been doing this since 1968, say that while it is important to be creative in the synthesis, the main task is to be faithful to what one receives, to look for the “beautiful pearls” in the language of the people. What is needed, says a theologian, is homo sinodalis: people with a synodal heart, who facilitate more than they impose, who know how to spot the emergence of the “new thing” that the Spirit calls.

There are no illusions here. A PowerPoint slide lists the obstacles: lack of interest and awareness, lack of information and skills, infrastructural challenges of dioceses in poor nations, the enormous task of coming together one way or another in parish groups while reaching out to the wounded, the insane and the discontented.

And yet, this is not an anxious meeting. The interventions are cheerful and confident. There is joy here, a quiet faith that all will be well, that a Synod Church – strained, disorderly, humble, but a place open for all – is what God asks of the Catholicism of the third millennium. There is also the confidence that the people of God will, over time, hear the call to come together. And when they do, that they will speak boldly and listen attentively, and that somehow, despite all resistance and obstacles, not another but one different The church will come out. Adsumus Sancte Spiritus.

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