The Catholic Church’s Synod on Synodality seems to be vast and varied. I believe that, above all else, it is a spiritual exercise in listening. The theologian, Paul Tillich, once stated, “The first act of love is to listen.” Like a mother who listens to her baby’s breathing, we act in accord with love when we truly listen. It seems to me that Pope Francis wants us all to become better listeners.
Saint Benedict, sixth century founder of western monasticism, began his guidance to followers with the imperative: “Listen, children, incline the ear of your heart to the voice of the father who loves you.” His desire to imitate our heavenly Father by basing spiritual connection on the art of listening is encouraging. Such instructions direct us with positive energy, the breath of heaven or grace of the Holy Spirit, to help us grasp our existential purpose. Theologian Jean-Paul Audet named three primary functions of church: organization, community, and movement. In our times, the institutional organization gets overemphasized while we tend to underplay the role of communion and mission. Yet, as community, we should strive to be in communion with God and one another. When we share in this communion, we are more likely to act or move together to carry out the Gospel mission, i.e., advance the work of the Lord collectively through ordinary encounters.
In parishes and dioceses throughout the globe, the Holy Father has introduced us to synodality and invites us to be participants, i.e., to gather and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit that will guide us in our modern world as we maneuver through great challenges while following the example of Jesus. It is no easy task but one that will bring us closer to the purpose and destiny of our creation. Though the Synodality topics are general (Dialogue in Church and Society, Authority and Participation, Co-Responsibility in Mission…), they apply to specific concerns that people hold. I regularly receive communications from Catholics who love our church but are disheartened by messages from ecclesial leaders that dismiss their struggles of being divorced-remarried, or gay, or practicing birth control. They get told that they cannot send their child to a Catholic school if they are in a same-sex marriage or that their daughter cannot join the Girl Scouts or that they cannot exercise using yoga or vote for their preferred candidate for public office. They are concerned that preachers are stuck on one or two topics, abortion and LGBT, and overly concerned with protecting and preserving the institution rather than being in communion with Christ and advancing His mission to the poor and marginalized. They are bothered that church members are more interested in condemning sinners than inclining the ear of their heart to listen to the ostracized and their struggles.
I believe that the Synod on Synodality, of which we will learn more in 2022, is a benevolent attempt by the pope and like-minded servant-leaders to listen to God’s people, to bring hope to the despairing. It announces a year of favor from the Lord and the church. It will focus Catholicism less on the corporate institution and more on living our mission in communion with Christ.