(Third in a series about the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops)
“We listen to each other, to our faith traditions and the signs of the times in order to discern what God is saying to all of us.” This statement in the Vatican handbook for the Synod sets the standard by which we are called to listen in synodal consultations.
“You didn’t hear what I said.” “You’re not listening to me.” These are common responses in discussions with family, friends or business associates. Why? Because when we are “listening” we are often thinking of how we are going to respond or how we are going to defend our position. We are not really hearing what the other person is saying. The synodal process is calling on us to really listen. The old saying “put yourself in the other guy’s shoes” can be a good reminder about how to authentically listen.
“The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes it sets before us,” said Pope Francis. At the diocesan or parish level, this means listening to people whose opinions on “church” we might not ordinarily seek out. Perhaps, it involves intentionally inviting those who may have had a negative church experience or those who have not considered “church” important in their lives.
To be good listeners, the Vatican handbook suggests humility, openness to conversion and change, and leaving behind prejudices and stereotypes. It lists some of the obstacles to doing that as the scourge of the virus of self-sufficiency and ideologies that give “greater importance to ideas than the reality of life.”
On a practical level, participants in the synod are being asked to be empathetic, listening not just to the words but also the feelings being expressed; to be sensitive to the different ways people communicate; to think before speaking, especially in response to what another person has said; and to examine their own assumptions and perceptions.
Listening is a tool or method. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the aim of listening, as expressed by Pope Francis, is “to discern what God is saying to all of us.”
Guiding the Conversation
When we hear the term ambassador, a picture may come to mind of a diplomat shuttling between countries to develop strong productive relationships. Coincidental with the launching of the Global Synod, the office of the Secretary of Evangelization in the Fall River Diocese was introducing the concept of Parish Ambassadors — representatives from each parish communicating with other ambassadors and diocesan staff to build stronger parishes.
The vision is that ambassadors will be two or more people within each parish who connect with other parishes and the diocese in the process of continued revitalization. Short term, current ambassadors have been asked to implement the synodal process.
Ambassadors have been working with pastors, parish staff and other volunteers in implementing synod consultations. Parish level consultations seek to give light to the thoughts and feelings of all participants without judgment, confrontation or the need to reach conclusions. Achieving that in any group of five or 10 people is quite a challenge. To help the process along, a facilitator and note taker will be assigned to each group.
The facilitator is not there to lead the discussion in a certain direction. Just the opposite. The facilitator will guide the conversation ensuring that all who want to have a chance to express themselves, can. The note-taker will capture what is said so that information from the small group can be included in one parish report. The parish report will then be sent to the diocese where a summary of all sessions will be created. It is important to note that no names are included in any of the notes. Every comment is anonymous and equal in value to every other comment.
Parish Synod News
• Holy Redeemer Parish in Chatham held its first synod session on Saturday afternoon January 22 and will conduct four additional sessions on February 26, March 19 and April 2 and 23. While encouraging in-person attendance, an alternate questionnaire is available for parishioners unable to attend.
• Two Parish Council members will lead synodal discussions at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth from 9:30 until 12:30 on Saturday, February 12.
• A general session synodal gathering for all parishioners is scheduled for Sunday February 27, following the 10:30 a.m. Mass at Christ the King Parish in Mashpee. This is in addition to smaller group dialogues being held by various parish groups.