November 19, 2021

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Universal synodal process offers a time of ‘mutual listening’

(En Espanol)

Last month, dioceses throughout the world began a formal process of listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we journey together as God’s people. This is what the word “synod” means—to journey together, to be gathered as fellow travelers in a Church that is on a journey to a better future—now and in eternity.

The synodal process is designed to unfold in three stages: The first stage involves receiving input from the parish level. The second stage will feature discussions at the diocesan and national levels. The third stage will involve international discussions with the process concluding in October 2023, with a general assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

Pope Francis has called this a time of “mutual listening that involves the entire people of God.” But the Holy Father insists that this listening process is not about garnering opinions or taking a survey but listening to the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit needs us,” Pope Francis says. “We listen to Him when we listen to each other. And when we leave no one behind or excluded.”

When Pope Francis inaugurated this synod process, he said that “celebrating a synod means walking on the same road, walking together.” He also observed that: “the Gospels frequently show us Jesus on a journey; he walks alongside people and listens to the questions and concerns lurking in their hearts. He shows us that God is not found in neat and orderly places, distant from reality, but walks ever at our side. He meets us where we are, on the often-rocky roads of life.”

“Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey?” the pope asks.  Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: “It’s useless” or “We’ve always done it this way”? The listening process that we are undertaking as a pilgrim people will only be effective if it is prayerful, open and capable of generating concrete action in response to the needs of others.

Will we truly listen to the Holy Spirit? Or will we be too preoccupied with our own comfort and concerns to be open and attentive to the will of God or the needs of our sisters and brothers in Christ? These are questions that Pope Francis has asked us to consider prayerfully as we undertake this process of encounter, attentive listening and spiritual discernment that will continue here in central and southern Indiana—and throughout the universal Church—for the next six months.

Pope Francis asks: Are we capable of really listening? Or have we become so distracted by the noise that surrounds us, and by the endless quarreling and divisiveness in our society and, yes, even in our Church, that we no longer know how to listen? These are tough questions, but the pope believes it’s urgent that we address them—especially in this time of pandemic, global economic crisis and general decline in moral and spiritual values.

Why is listening so important today? What are we listening for? According to our Holy Father, we are listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in response to the pressing spiritual and temporal needs of people in every region of the world. Above all, we are listening so that we can more effectively carry out our mission: To joyfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people by living his mission of mercy, hope and salvation.

This mission cannot be fulfilled, Pope Francis teaches, unless we first encounter Christ in his people, unless we listen prayerfully to God’s word, and unless we can discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us here and now.

In his recent book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis writes:

“What the Lord asks of us today is a culture of service, not a throwaway culture. But we can’t serve others unless we let their reality speak to us. To go there, you have to open your eyes and let the suffering around you touch you, so that you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you from the margins.

“As disciples of Jesus Christ, we cannot serve others unless we open our eyes to the needs of others, unless we let their suffering touch our hearts, and unless we listen, letting their reality speak to us.”

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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