As we continue to explore Foundations for Synodality, this blog concentrates on discernment in common, which is distinct from individual discernment. Read on to learn a little more…
Definition: A group process of prayer, reflection and conversation. A disposition, a way of being in the world that is constantly attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit. It is NOT just another decision-making process but rather the work of building a relationship with God who desires an intimacy that trusts His presence, His wisdom and His right judgment. As such, it requires work, persistence, and constant growth through internal reflection and through reflection with others. It requires that we be willing to be transformed.
Discernment in common is the collective action of opening to the work of God in a given context, being willing to do as God wills despite the need for self-giving or self-sacrifice, always seeking what God desires: to love God and serve God to the greatest extent possible.
Who does this? Any group can use it, but for our purposes in the Pentecost Vigil Project, we will be encouraging/supporting leadership cohorts in parishes/dioceses and Catholic organizations to adopt this practice by learning its steps and committing to using them.
What is the purpose? Discernment in common can be compared to "spiritual exercises for groups", enabling group members to identify and choose, in a given context, the path to the greatest service of God.[i] What are spiritual exercises again? Any spiritual practice dedicated towards increasing one’s personal capacity.[ii]
Are there other “why’s” that can help us understand what Pope Francis is asking of the Church? The conviction that God is acting in history and is constantly communicating with human beings is the assumption on which our efforts to discern in common is based. But what other “why’s” are there for adopting this practice? The first comes from the Sacred Word:
Why? Because we believe God's Spirit is at work for our common good and we want to live in that Spirit.
Why? Another set of “why’s” come from basic leadership principles, one of which is to gather as many points of view/options as possible. [v]
Why? And another "why" comes from our baptismal responsibility to contribute to the community’s growth in holiness, that is in following what God wants of the community, not what the community wants without having deliberately discerned God’s voice through the Spirit.[vi] To further elucidate the holiness the baptized bring to the practice of discernment in common, St. Thomas Aquinas, in a sermon he delivered on the solemnity of Pentecost (ca. 1225–1275) explained how the Holy Spirit makes us holy:
No one is holy unless the Holy Spirit makes him holy. . . . In all whom He makes holy, He renders them . . . contemptuous of temporal things. As it says in John’s Gospel: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Again, He bestows spiritual life upon those whom He makes holy, as it says in Ezekiel: “Behold I will place the spirit within you, and you shall live” (37:5). The spiritual life owes its very existence to the Holy Spirit. “If you live by the Spirit, walk also by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). . . . Again, the Holy Spirit leads them back to the hidden origin through which we are united to God; in the words of Isaiah, “the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to a place you do not know” (1 Kings 18:12), that is, to the heavenly inheritance.[vii]
Why? The Second Vatican Council called us to holiness, inviting us to dispose ourselves to become saints through prayer and a life of discipleship. But nothing we do can make us holy. That’s the exclusive work of the Spirit, who makes us saints if we ask. We are called to open our heart wide to welcome the Holy Spirit and his graces and to cooperate with the Spirit’s desire to make us holy. In each of us, that might look different. Discernment in common is one way we "put on the mind of Christ." ( Philippians 2:5)
So that sparks the question: What does this have to do with Synod 2021-2024 or synodality in general?
The ability to discern in common is foundational to the practice of synodality. I learned a new word last week (thanks Discerning Deacons![viii])…synodalization. I expect it’s not in the dictionary just yet, but I hope you get the idea. In order to become a synodal Church, one of the foundations is being able to discern the voice of the Spirit. Synodalization, in this context, means learning how to discern in common AND practicing it.
Look for next week's blog to see how we get started as individuals and as communities/organizations
The Tent is OPEN!
What are we doing during this period of waiting for the Spirit to speak to the universal Church through the Synod on Synodality? Building foundations. Forming ourselves spiritually. Continuing the sacred practice of listening. Practicing discernment in common. Praying, learning and experimenting with this way of being Church. Want to join us? The Pentecost Vigil Project is here to welcome you and to support your efforts. Go here to subscribe and for more resources on discernment in common.
Photo by Providence Doucette Unsplash
[ii] Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_exercises#:~:text=Spiritual%20exercises%20may%20refer%20to,the%20Roman%20Catholic%20Jesuit%20order
[iii] I Corinthians 12:7
[iv] Ezekiel 37:14
[v] Dawn Onley. “How Leaders Make Better Decisions.” August 29, 2019. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/fall2019/pages/how-leaders-can-make-better-decisions.aspx Accessed 1/31/23
[vi] Canons 208 and 210 in the Code of Canon Law. https://www.vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/cic_lib2-cann208-329_en.html#:~:text=The%20Christian%20faithful%20are%20obliged,the%20decent%20support%20of%20ministers. And the universal call to holiness expressed in Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5 https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html