Two days ago, we celebrated the culmination of our Diocesan Pre-synodal Consultation which was conducted in all our parishes, BEC’s and various sectoral groups. The six-month long consultation was in response to Pope Francis’ call to participate in the Synod of Bishops on Synodality. It was an opportunity for the whole diocese to understand better and become aware of the synodal nature of the Church. More importantly, it was an occasion for us to experience and learn the synodal way of being Church. What is synodality?
The concept of synodality is as old as the Church herself. Synod is a Greek word which means: one (syn) journey (hodus). It depicts the Church as a community walking together the path of Jesus, who is “the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:16) Before the believers came to be called Christians, they were known as “followers of the Way.”
I believe that in calling for the consultation, Pope Francis wants to revive the understanding as well as the spirit of the synodality in the Church. For many centuries, our understanding of the Church is primarily institutional, structural and hierarchical. The faithful are used to listen to the Pope, bishops and the priests, and wait for their instruction and direction. There is really nothing wrong with that. After all, that was how Jesus established the Church. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.” (Mt 16:18) “He who hears you, hears me.” (Lk 10:16)
But the Church is also a community of disciples, the People of God, united by the Holy Spirit into the One Body of Christ. This is what makes a synodal Church. The worldwide pre-synodal consultation focuses on the themes of communion, participation and mission. We are one in Christ whose Body we are. As such, we journey together and participate in the same life and mission of Christ.
In the consultation, the virtue of listening is strongly emphasized as a preeminent expression of synodality. We listen to everyone because God speaks not only through the hierarchy but also through the faithful since all have received the Holy Spirit in baptism. Hence everyone is a bearer of God’s voice and message. The consultation then becomes a process of discernment by which the whole community listen to one another and seek God’s will so they “can more fruitfully fulfill [their] mission of evangelization in the world as a leaven at the service of the coming of God’s kingdom.” (Vademecum, 1.4)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus which marks the end of his mission on earth as he returns to the Father to reign as Lord of all creation. At the same time, it also marks the beginning of the Church’s task of continuing Christ’s saving mission. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus commissions his disciples to proclaim the gospel to the whole world and promises to send the Holy Spirit so that they “are clothed with power from on high.”
Our experience of synodality through the series of consultations has taught us valuable lessons on how to do mission. Foremost is the lesson on the art and virtue of listening which is absolutely essential if we are to accomplish our mission of evangelization. Evangelizing is proclaiming and communicating Christ. Communication starts with listening. The only Christ that the Church can proclaim is the Christ that the community has known. Hence the need for the community to listen to one other in order to recognize the Christ whom they are called to preach. True, the Church is Mother and Teacher (Mater et Magistra). But before she is a teaching Church, she is first a listening Mother.
Looking back on the recent events, I wonder if part of our frustration over the last election comes from our failure to listen before preaching. We were sure of what we preached: solid Christian principles, even eternal truths. We were equally confident of our God-given mandate and prophetic duty of condemning fake news, corruption, injustice… I have no quarrel with all this, which I totally agree.
But did we listen enough? Particularly to the poor, the CDE crowds? How do they perceive and understand what is happening to them and to our country? What is their state of mind? We seem to have no problem with the AB crowds with whom we share the same wavelength (and for which we are perceived as an elitist Church). The point is that we may have failed to connect with the masses. Before Jesus preached the scriptures to the two disciples of Emmaus, he first listened to their tale of woes, even their gross misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what was happening. Only after listening did Jesus offer them the light of his Word and the revelation of the Eucharist.
Today, the Church celebrates the 56th World Day of Social Communications. And the theme Pope Francis chose for this occasion is precisely “Listening with the ear of the heart.” In his message the Holy Father reminds us that “good communication… pays attention to the reasons of the other person and tries to grasp the complexity of reality. It is sad when, even in the Church, ideological alignments are formed and listening disappears, leaving sterile opposition in its wake.”*