Listen up: you’re going to hear a lot about the word “synod” in coming weeks and months.
Pope Francis launched the diocesan phase of the process worldwide Oct. 10 and Archbishop Nelson Perez opened the local phase last Sunday, Oct. 17.
What does it all mean? The word “synod” is rooted in a Greek term denoting a “journey together.” The synod process therefore is a journey of the whole church, an encounter with Jesus Christ and with one another.
In one word, it is all about listening.
The pope is inviting every member of the church to participate in this phase of the process in which everyone has a voice, and the opportunity to listen.
The synod process, or “synodality,” really gets down to listening to the Holy Spirit active among us in our time.
What it is not is a gripe session for all that is wrong with the church. Nor is it whetstone for people to grind the axe of their agenda to a fine edge and wield it. It is not a means for falling into ideological camps, one pitted against another. And it certainly is not a Catholic-style exercise in parliamentary democracy.
This is listening across a broad spectrum, patiently considering with an open mind and heart what another person is saying, even if the words run counter to our viewpoints.
It calls for courage in listening for truth in a person’s words, at least allowing for the possibility. This kind of listening means not gathering ammo for reloading the gun of rebuttal.
This is not argumentation but an acceptance of tension between perspectives, among sincere people, as together we discern what the Holy Spirit is asking of us.
Courage will also be necessary to speak honestly not so much about issues of the day, but about one’s personal encounter with the living God. Synodality involves sharing one’s deepest experience of faith with another person to build communion among them.
So broad should this sharing be that the process is not limited to those already engaged in Catholic parishes, schools and church institutions.
Practically that is where many of the synodal conversations will begin. But such sharing is especially intended for those who do not show up regularly and may in fact have walked away from the church or are little noticed, for whatever reason.
Pope Francis calls them people “on the margins” of society and the church, and it is there that the listening must be focused.
He encourages Catholics to begin to answer with courage and within existing church structures the two questions at the heart of the synod: How is “journeying together” happening today in our local church? What steps does the Holy Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together?”
Over the next six months Catholics will have the opportunity to share their answers and insights.
The responses will be compiled for a local report in April 2022 to be added to others from across North America and joined by dioceses around the world in order to inform the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2023.
Plans are forming for the discussions and the listening to begin at the parish level. Msgr. Brian Hennessy, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Maple Glen, will add to his already full plate as a pastor and serve as the point person for the synod in the archdiocese.
At this time archdiocesan leaders are discerning, in the context of Scripture and prayer, a structure to begin the listening process.
Parish pastors, Msgr. Hennessy suggests, must discern how to find the opportunities to start a conversation at the parish, then expand outward.
“It will be time well spent if we can draw people into greater participation” in the church, he said.
The process of sharing one’s journey of faith, of being heard and discerning God’s will, is a process meant to permeate the whole church and become a permanent feature and witness to the world.
Synodality is a new step on our earthly pilgrimage beginning now by listening, to one another and to the Lord in prayer.
It is “a moment of grace,” as Msgr. Hennessy says, meant to lead everyone into a deeper communion with Christ, to greater participation in his church and forward in mission to serve all the world.
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