Listen and pray


27 Sep 2023

As the Church comes together for the Synod, Pope Francis asks we adopt listening and dialogue as a lifestyle at every level.

Pope Francis asks for prayers for the Church during the month of the Synod. In doing so he reminds us that the Church is bigger than the Synod and that the Holy Spirit is bigger than the Church as we experience it. Those truths, of course, are what the Synod is designed to embody.

In his prayer intention for October Pope Francis brings us back to basics. In a recent talk he drew on the Gospel story where Jesus ticks off Peter for thinking as the world does and not as God does. Peter had tried to talk Jesus out of speaking pessimistically about being crucified. The Pope applied Jesus’ words to Catholics who judged the health of the Church by the number of converts it made, by the size of its congregations and its numerical growth. He insisted the Spirit is often to be found in the small things and people of life, and through working at the edges of the Church rather than at its centres. Just before the Synod Pope Francis underlined Christ’s presence at the margins by visiting Morocco with its thousand or so Catholics spread throughout the whole nation.

This spirit is also embedded in his dream for the Synod. The effectiveness of the Synod will not lie in the quality of the speeches that are made, the majorities that are won on significant votes, nor in the changes to Church structures that are agreed on. It will lie in the quality of the interchange between people at every level that is generated by the Synod. It is about commending a way of living and relating among Catholics that will be practised at the Synod. The Synod will then be an attractive model for the whole Church in all its relationships at parish, diocesan and national levels.

The heart of fruitful interchange and of our opening ourselves to the Spirit lies in the quality of our listening. In listening we quieten and relax ourselves and open ourselves to others, whereas when speaking we tighten ourselves and shut out other sounds as distractions. In a parliamentary process we speak to win a vote for the position we have taken. In the Synod we listen and exchange views in order to win one another to attend to the voice of the Spirit. We trust in God and not in our own convictions and arguments.

In his intention Pope Francis refers to this process as a lifestyle. It is more than an organisational procedure. It is a way of living as Church. The way in which people are invited to work at the Synod is way of life relating at every level of the Church, beginning from the small groups in a parish and reaching to the Cardinals in Rome. It is built around prayer – not only in the saying of prayers before each day’s proceedings, but more importantly in the personal discernment and listening at each exchange in the Synod in which the participants ask where the Spirit is leading them. Ideally this way of working will be reflected in the life of parishes, the ways in which they relate to the bishop in the diocese, bishops relate to one another in the nation, and the national Church relates to the International Church centred in Rome.

Pope Francis also prays for the fruits of the Synod. They will be found in the ways in which at each level of the Church we are not preoccupied with the internal order of the Church but with reaching out to its edges. There are to be found the people to whom the Spirit draws us. There, too, is the place where we find our inner life as Church renewed.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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