Our pastoral space, or PCA, for synodal listening is made up of five parishes grouped together according to their proximity. The first session took place on December 15.
On my way to the meeting, I ran into a young man near the church and struck up a conversation. He asked, “What’s going on tonight?” I threw the question back at him, “What do you think is going on?” He said, “I don’t know. I heard there’s going to be a big complaint meeting! “Complaining about what?” I asked. ” I do not know. I guess the church!”
We conspired to find a good place to sit and experience the listening session first hand. He was surprised that some young people expressed a preference for the Latin Mass. He thought the upbeat music would do it for him.
As I reflected on the synod listening session, four different processes come to mind. First: I remember many listening sessions with my father when I was growing up. Second: I thought of the biblical story of the trip to Emmaus, when Jesus listened to two disappointed disciples. Third: I have considered the common practice of dialogue in our institute. We religious listen to each other and to the Holy Spirit to discern the apostolates to be carried out by our sisters. Fourth: a scientific way of listening — the use of focus groups as a representation of a large population to gather data to understand a problem. In a way, I feel that this process of synodal listening uses all four processes holistically.
I come from a humble background; we were simple people. But what really sticks out in my memory is how my dad would engage me in conversation. He was asking me an open-ended question, like asking me how the semester was going. I would tell again and again about everything. My father listened, smiling, as long as I spoke. He had a gentle way of finding out as I was talking where I was struggling or where I needed advice. He didn’t interrupt, but whatever the problem was, he jotted it down in his mind – peer pressure, homework, or teachers. When I had finished speaking, he would ask me, for example, why I had called a certain teacher an “evil monster”. It would catch me off guard: “Did I really say that? He was gently guiding me to understand that it was okay to be different, but I didn’t have to be disrespectful, or he would help me find a way to maximize my learning experience without being caught up in negative attitudes.
Being able to voice our concerns – and be heard – has a huge impact on how we view the church, or any relationship for that matter. Sometimes people get clarity just by talking, even before they get answers. Maybe that’s what the church is doing with these listening sessions. If nothing else, we have a place where we can be heard. That in itself is important. When we let out our frustrations or pent up emotions, we can create room for inspiration and growth. We are not busy dealing with deleted or unexpressed questions.
Second, as I reflect on synodality as a journey together, the scene of the journey to Emmaus comes to mind (Luke 24:13-35). The disciples had a lively exchange. Of course, they were disappointed: they had put their hope in Jesus. Presumably they are running away, trying to make sense of what happened, thinking that they must now move on with their lives and put the sad events of the past few days behind them.
A stranger joins them; he simply asks a question, then he listens. Initially, they are almost irritated that he is unaware of the “latest news” in Jerusalem. They keep expressing their hopes, their experiences, their expectations, and then their frustration that it didn’t work out the way they planned.
In a way, I feel like that’s what we do during the talking/listening session. We, the faithful, simply express what we think is happening in our journey of life in the church: our concerns, our hopes and our dreams. Hopefully we will eventually connect the dots from the Old Testament, through the New Testament, and how it all relates to our own salvation history. If we trust tradition and the interpretation of church teaching, then at the breaking of bread our eyes will be opened and our hearts will be on fire — because we will understand how God writes straight with curved lines.
Third, I consider how dialogue is encouraged in our institute. In our religious community, dialogue has an important place in the process of discernment. As an institute, we listen to each other — and together to the Holy Spirit — to know and understand the needs of our time. It allows us to listen to the nudging of the Holy Spirit and to discern our apostolic efforts. This is why the chapter is important, because it is where the rules and regulations are formulated to guide the community. This is done through dialogue and deliberation.
The fourth way illustrates how the church could use science. In qualitative research, we engage a discussion group as a representative of a given population. We can possibly compare our listening sessions to a focus group representing people going to church. It might not be perfect because it’s mostly a self-selected group, but it’s a good place to start nonetheless. It lays the groundwork for understanding what is going on in people’s life journeys.
Any meaningful relationship is built on effective communication. This global synodality is all the richer because we are all together listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit who raises men and women of all times to respond to the needs of the times.
I am really grateful to the young man for his sincere exchange, and to the organizers, for my chance to participate.