The challenge of listening in the synodal process

By: Raúl Arderí SJ.

El desafío de la escucha en el proceso sinodal
El desafío de la escucha en el proceso sinodal

Listening is more than hearing. We can be physically in front of a person who shares his experience with us and our mind is very far away while we focus on other concerns. I remember the attraction that television had on me when I was a child, and when I almost got into this box of images and sounds while the world around me almost disappeared. My mother had to repeat to me several times, until I could actually hear her, that it was time to bathe, eat or do another activity. It was not uncommon that only when the TV was turned off did my attention return to reality and was able to answer questions from others. One of the current challenges in my pastoral life is not to get distracted in the daily issues that I have to “solve” and to devote all my attention to people who ask to talk or simply cross my path. Sharing this experience with other friends, I have discovered that the challenge of pausing to listen to the other is more common than we think, in the midst of a society full of precariousness and extreme situations that continually demand us.

The Catholic Church in Cuba, in communion with the universal Church, is preparing to initiate a process in each diocese that will involve as many baptized as possible. The Synod will begin on October 17 of this year and will have both national and continental stages. A significant milestone on this path will occur in Rome at the end of 2023, to then return to the local Churches and adapt the decisions made there. It is not by chance that Pope Francis chose a date that practically coincides with the beginning of the Council six decades ago. The synodal path seeks precisely to update the most important ideas of the Second Vatican Council, taking into account the voices of all believers in an experience of community discernment. The Cuban Conference of Religious (CONCUR) in coordination with the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC) and the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) is promoting a Listening Process throughout the Island with three worksheets to familiarize ourselves with the synodal style and prepare the itinerary that will begin in October.

Listening to each other and paying attention to what God asks of us today is a challenge for our Church if we do not want to ignore this opportunity or corner it in a drawer of “beautiful projects” with very little relevance in daily life. This process is not simple or automatic, it requires spiritual dispositions and a conscious effort to seek God’s will among all. The tradition of the Church has two important clues that can guide us on this path: the desire to save the argument of others and the humility to learn from everyone.

At the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola recommends that those who accompany and receive them be more willing to “save the proposal of their neighbor” than to condemn it, and if they cannot save it, ask how the interlocutor understands it. If after this moment an error is discovered in the brother’s position, he tries to correct it with love, seeking all the appropriate means to save him (US 22). This starting point prevents preconceptions or misunderstandings from interfering in the dialogue and at the same time enables a space of trust where everyone can express themselves freely and adequately argue their point of view. The Synod should not be a meeting of words calculated out of fear of making some uncomfortable, but an assembly of brothers where diversity is seen as a condition of possibility for unity.

When Ignatius of Loyola wrote his “little book” he did not advocate a relativism that gives equal value to all inspirations, but rather, as a master of discernment, put the good of the specific person at the center, overcoming possible misunderstandings and fears that a they often block dialogue. A second element that we can recover is the ability to learn from everyone and even from the smallest or with less experience. Jesus’ encounters with the Roman centurion (Mt 8, 8), the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7, 28) or the lawyer who asked about the most important commandment (Mk 12, 32-33) teach us to let ourselves be surprised by the Spirit of God that blows in the least expected places. A fragment of the rule of Saint Benedict, father of Western monasticism, recommends listening to the opinion of the entire community in matters of great importance “because many times the Lord reveals to the youngest what is best.” Practicing this advice requires greater humility while having more experience or knowledge and greater responsibility in leading the community.

One of the fundamental fears of some sectors regarding the synodal process is to turn the Church into a kind of parliament where the most eloquent, persuasive or influential voices monopolize the dialogue and drown out the others. Faith, it is rightly said, is not the result of a majority vote but the acceptance of divine revelation. Being honest with history and human nature itself, we must recognize that these fears are not without foundation. It is enough to remember the role of the emperor and his legacies in the first Ecumenical Councils and how his political interests often prevailed over doctrinal or pastoral questions. It would be false to imagine a process of dialogue without heated discussions, mechanisms to meet the wishes of the majority and pressure from outside. The Church is not simply a spiritual reality, it is made up of human beings with strengths and weaknesses and this is reflected in all its decisions.

Although necessary, the debate does not exhaust the synodal process. This itinerary should offer a privileged space for personal prayer, listening to the Word, the celebration of the Eucharist and Reconciliation among all its members. Scripture continues to be the canon or supreme measure to gauge our fidelity to Jesus, but it itself demands an effort to interpret it in the light of the living tradition of the Church and the theological methods available to us. Only fundamentalism that reads the Word literally has been rejected by the Church as true intellectual suicide. The Magisterium of Bishops in communion with the Pope, where the charism of truth resides, is the other instance that allows us to advance on the synodal path without fear of betraying the Gospel.

We know that the last word in the decisions of the Synod corresponds to the pastors of the Church. This does not make superfluous all the intermediate voices of the dialogue, in particular of the laity affected by the questions being debated and other specialists whose contributions are essential. It would be very naive to think that the sacrament of Holy Orders automatically enables one to have an informed opinion on all questions of faith and human existence. The Church not only teaches in her relationship with the world, she also learns and can discover the inspirations of the Spirit in the deepest longings of each age.

The Jesuit Anthony de Mello tells in one of his books that, in 1917, while a revolution was taking place that would change the destinies of humanity, the Russian Orthodox Church met in assembly and that a passionate debate took place about the color of liturgical vestments. . Some vehemently insisted that it should be white, while others argued, just as excitedly, that it should be purple. The participants in that meeting were not capable of listening to each other and even less of listening to reality. Like the television of my childhood, they had a distraction that disconnected them from the world. The Synod to which Pope Francis invites us is a good opportunity to turn off our distractions and pay attention to the voice of God and of our brothers. The challenge is learning to listen.

Note: To receive the three files of the Listening Process, send your answers or clarify any questions you can write to: concurcuba@gmail, the WhatsApp contact +53 5970 5978 or the Telegram channel @EscuchaCuba.

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