Updated: Mar 27
Here’s what I’m reading and hearing from those trying to hold onto the hope and energy of the first steps in the Synod on Synodality: “Now what?” What do we do next to not lose the goodness flowing from those listening sessions? I remember the frustration of getting all hyped up for some new diocesan initiative, only to discover there were no next steps. No guides. Just ideas floating around out there, with no authority, no instructions, and no support. I am hypothesizing many of you who participated in the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality are having this experience. Read on! There's plenty you can do NOW, with authority, agency and order.
Here’s our response to that great theological question, "Now what?" Take this time to build sound synodal foundations or to evaluate foundations already in place as your “next steps” on the #synod journey. It is a mistake to attempt to build a synodal Church without these foundations in place. The Lord has made it clear that foundations matter, reminding us of houses built on sandy ground and seeds sown in rocky soil. Neither flourish and so it is with synodality.
So far we have advocated for sound pillars in understanding what synodality is and why it is important, in listening, in trustworthiness/trust, and now we are turning to the foundation of discernment. Just as it is folly to assume the other pillars are in place, strong and already being practiced, so it is a mistake to believe that people are prepared and practiced in discernment in general, and for the work of discernment in common. It’s time to assess honestly and build deliberately.
So, make sure you checked out our blog on 5 ways to prepare for discernment in common (need to link it) and plan with it. Now, we turn to what each individual who is part of a discernment process needs to have as part of their spiritual disposition in order to be a full participant in discernment in common. I'm guessing that most of us have at least one of these spiritual practices that needs engagment or improvement. So do that now!
Openness. You know that when an infant is baptized, the priest prays in word and gesture that their ears and mouths would be open to hear and speak the voice of the Lord. In the Christian initiation of unbaptized adults, the Ephphatha Rite is celebrated, calling for eyes, ears and mouth to be opened to receive the voice of the Lord. Clearly, openness is not a given at the beginning of our spiritual journeys and, it turns out, all through them. So those involved in discernment need to be open, to pray for openness to characterize their participation, and to allow openness to challenge and transform them.
Generosity. This is a generosity of spirit, believing that fellow participants are doing the best they can, trying to live faithfully, and that their mistakes and flaws are not intentional. It is giving the benefit of the doubt, until there is no more doubt, and then determining how to continue to relate to the other person with truthfulness and dignity. It is also a generosity with time and with space, allowing others all they need to be able to participate fully in discernment.
Interior Freedom. This is a little harder to grasp, but it is the freedom we know when we have received forgiveness, embraced new life in Christ, dwell in, through and with him. And it is the freedom we experience when we are no longer enslaved by competition, comparison, judgment, and fear. We know and trust the Lord’s abiding presence within us, and so are not chained by what others think of us or our ideas, by social conventions, or customs. We are focused on the Lord and confident in our place in his family … and so are free.
Courage. While a gift of the Spirit, it is also a skill that we can develop. We can have try courage…open to giving something not done before a go. We can have trust courage…that others will do as they say, and that the outcomes will be good enough. And we can have truth courage…the ability to speak the truth with a generosity of spirit and the good of others in mind. Being prophetic, being guided to change direction, to transform perspectives, to step down or away so that another might lead all take courage. Click here for an eBook on courage.
Have the habit of prayer and reflection. Since discernment is a prayer form, those asked to participate in discernment in common should be familiar with the works of prayer and reflection not just intellectually, but in their personal lives, regularly practiced. While the habits of prayer vary, discernment in common needs people who know how to pray, have regular prayer habits, and who use a variety of methods to commune with the Lord. Finally, discernment in common requires individuals who are adept with reflection: asking hard questions, reviewing outcomes, pondering new ideas, and wrestling with God if necessary, knowing that this is a habitual practice and not just a one-and-done.
Have their priorities straight. This sounds almost silly at first read, but it’s really at the heart of the matter. A discerning person lives the Great Commandment where love for God consumes them and love of neighbor is how they express their love for God. What God wants, giving thanks and praise to God, living God’s commandments Jesus’ W(w)ay is their priority and the rest of their lives are organized around God’s will, God’s way. They have experienced the re-alignment this requires, are not afraid of transformation and know the need for repentance. God’s will first.
Refuse to confuse the ends and the means. This is another way to say that those well equipped to discern individually or in common recognize that the ends do not justify the means. Followers of Christ attend to how they do what
they do as much as what they are doing and its outcome. They are attentive to dignity, honesty, integrity, truth-telling, and humility all along the way. Great outcomes that have run rough-shod over people, ignored the Deposit of Faith or compromised the Christian community are not great outcomes, for the means do not reflect Jesus. Those who will participate in discernment in common need this in place so that the how is as important as the what.
So there you have it, Now what?" An Ignatian look at elements of an individual spirituality that need to be in place before discernment in common can happen and therefore before synodality can take root. So now is the time for individual leaders and parishioners to assess their spiritual preparedness to participate in discernment in common. Now is the time to lead a parish on a retreat, focusing on each of these, repenting and learning how to develop each of these dispositions. Now is the time to grow spiritually, in preparation for the great work of being a synodal Church! And now is the time to find the people in your midst for whom most of this is already in place…invite them to pray, to help form others, to share their stories and practices with others. Invite them to light this path!
Now what? Lay the individual foundations for discerning in common with your parish leaders! Develop their spirituality, so that when it is time to seek the Lord’s guidance, they are prepared to listen for the Spirit’s voice because they have been doing so already personally.
Want to think this through with someone outside your parish? Interested in a retreat or day of recollection? Interested in more blogs like this? Know someone who’s adopting synodal practices? Invite them to join our community! Invite them to go to SUBSCRIBE (link at the bottom of every page)! Ready to get started discerning in common? Check out this guide.
And finally now what? Keep checking back on our website for more items collected and created to support your #synodjourney.
Image by Mark Winkler Unsplash