The Pope wishes to “consult with the people of God” through the process of a “Synod on Synodality.”
He says, “a teaching Church must be a listening Church.” Therefore for this new Synod not only will Pope Francis and the Bishops discuss, pray and discern about Communion, Participation, and Mission in the direction of our Church, but lay people are invited to join in the discernment and discussion as well.
This may sound strange. Perhaps it is even disconcerting to Catholic ears to have the laity involved in a Synod. However, remember that we too are the Church, not just the hierarchy alone. We should be part of this!
In order that our leaders may hear what the Spirit may have to say through the people, it is important that we all participate. All of our baptized are called. If you have left the Church, if you no longer practice the Faith, I hope you will also let your voice be heard. We need to hear from you, too.
Each of us has our agendas, things about the Church that we are upset about or hope will change. Let’s endeavor, however, to be receptive as well as expressive. I think we should take this invitation very seriously in a spirit of prayer and discernment, seeking the will of God in what we are to say.
How is this process going to work?
The first phase of this “Synod on Synodality” began with the Bishops and the Holy Father in Rome in October 2021. The second phase, the “listening phase,” is already underway in our Austin Diocese. Locally, one parish here is hosting open listening sessions.
There will be small groups formed at the session to discuss the questions for consideration, dialogue and prayer together.
The student parish here is holding discussions with its parish council only which I think is disappointing.
Our other three local parishes have not begun the process as yet but they will according to how this should work.
Should you be uncomfortable discussing these things in public or you can’t make a listening session, there is a survey available on the Diocesan website you can fill out at austindiocese.org/synod to participate. Check with your own Diocese for what is being done for the Synod and how you can participate.
What happens after all of this listening? What everyone has said will be taken into another listening session with the Bishop who will then take it with him to the next phase of the Synod in Rome in 2023 with his brother Bishops and the Holy Father. Do the Popes and the Bishops have to do as we say? No, they are still the Pope and the Bishops. Their authority is still their authority. However they do want to hear from us and they do care what we have to say. They will be discussing how to incorporate this listening process more in the future.
The prospect of the invitation to be a part of this Synod has stirred new hope in me; the most hope I have felt for the healing and renewal of the Church since 2002 when the abuse crisis broke. The first step in healing and for the renewal of our communion, participation and mission is this listening and being heard. This will build trust between the laity and the hierarchy and has the potential to renew and restore.
We live in difficult times for the Church. However, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed…struck down, but not destroyed. (See 2 Corinthians 4:8) Our Church is sturdy enough to guide us through two millennia of Christianity, and also dynamic enough for the same and into the future. We are still the Church that the gates of hell will not overcome. (Matt. 16:18b.) So let’s take courage and take part, trusting this process and in the Holy Spirit active within it to bring good fruit and new hope.
Another part of taking this seriously is to pray steadfastly and persistantly for the whole process. As a Carmelite, an important part of living our charism is to pray for the Church.
When I set myself to pray in a dedicated way for something or someone the first thing I do is go to Confession. I have noticed that that sacrament tends to grant me clarity of heart and I think I am better able to discern how to pray the way the Holy Spirit wants me to then. At the suggestion of my friend Julia, I have set an alarm on my phone to pray for the Synod daily at noon. I already pray the Angelus at noon so that is easy. I dedicate the Angelus for Synod and I pray for participation and the movement of the Spirit in the Church through this, for the Bishops and the Holy Father and for all of us to discern the voice of God in what we receive and say, for healing and renewal in the Church.
We can offer any suffering we experience during the day for the Synod, and after the example of St. Therese, offer our small sacrifices through the day, the work we do, remembering this intention at mass when we receive communion.
If the timing works out, we could pray a novena to the Holy Spirit. We can offer a rosary, or our time in silent interior prayer, or your time in adoration. In whatever way we pray and remember God, we can ask for open-ness of heart and the inspiration of the Spirit.
Here is the prayer suggested by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for this Synod. It is a simplified version of the one used at Vatican II and also during the Synods of the past.
“We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.
I also like this prayer and I say it often.
“Come, Holy Spirit,
come by means
of the powerful intercession
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Mother of the Church.”