A Vincentian View: Synodality and Listening

by | Mar 16, 2022 | Formation, Reflections | 2 comments

For me, the word most frequently invoked as one reflects upon and participates in the call to synodality in the current Church is “listening.”  The “journeying together” that describes the character of synodality presumes the ability and the willingness—even eagerness—to invite and respond to the experience of all Christians.  A particular emphasis directs our ears to those who can often go unheard and undervalued.

The documents written for our guidance on this effort consistently begin with an instruction to listen to the Word of God and to surrender to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel of the Transfiguration includes the scene in which the voice from heaven directs the disciples:

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” (Lk 9:35)

Later in the Gospels, Jesus promises the Advocate and highlights her role as guide:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it.  But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. . . . The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” (Jn 14:16-17, 26)

Thus, the first listening required of us deals with our willingness to be instructed by God’s Word and guided by God’s Paraclete.   The foundational document of the International Theological Commission, Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church (ITC), prescribes before listening to each other, disciples must listen to the Word” (ITC 109c).

With this starting point, the documents direct us to a wide range of individuals and groups who must give attention to their charges:

  • Pastors must listen carefully to the wishes (vota) of the faithful (ITC 68);
  • Theologians must develop their capacity to listen to each other, to dialogue, to discern and to harmonise their many and varied  approaches and contributions (ITC 75);
  • A bishop needs to listen to his priests, to consult them and to dialogue with them (ITC 81);
  • The Synod of Bishops is to listen more broadly and more attentively to the sensus fideiof the People of God (ITC 100);
  • The People of God needs to listen to one another, and especially to those at the margins (For A Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission [PD] 1.3)

One could go through the many documents dealing with the Synod and identify numerous values that summon us to dialogue (communal discernment [ITC 114], the ecumenical journey [ITC 103], pastoral decisions [PD 1.3], and so on).  Among the most important groups to engage are the young and the “nones.”  As Vincentians, we would also put the voices of the poor high on the list of conversation partners.

One thing is clear: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens…. The faithful People, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other; and all listening to the Holy Spirit” (ITC 110).  During this entire process, let us ask the Lord to open our ears and hearts as well as minds.

2 Comments

  1. Ross

    It dawns on me just now, Father Pat, that the church, as “qahal” o “ekklesia,” means the “assembly of the ‘summoned’ or ‘called.'” And so, it implies listening; it is made up of those who have listened to an urgent summons or call. There is no true church without listening, no true synod either without listening.

    Thanks for an engaging reminder to listen that I hope will make for our becoming doers as well.

  2. Tom M

    Thanks for this fine overview

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