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The Spirit is at Work!

When Pope Francis announced a “Synod on the Synod,” I volunteered to be one of the facilitators/note takers for listening sessions. I had a bit of an ulterior motive: I wanted to be sure that truths were spoken about the culture of Church, how it marginalizes people, the harm of clericalism to the body, and the oppression of women in the Church. I was encouraged by the Holy Father’s desire to hear from the people of God about how they felt about the Church. The quote from Gaudium et Spes came to mind, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Pope Paul VI. Gaudium et Spes, 1965, 1). Finally, a Pope who took these words seriously!


We targeted all of the ministries of the Church from Community Life and the Rainbows (senior members) to the Youth of Ascension and everyone in between. We held 22 sacred listening circles for approximately 180 people. Not a huge turnout, but we felt it was a good response given the time constraints. We had 30+ volunteers as facilitators and note takers. We tried to speak to those people who never darken our doors, the “none’s,” “done’s,” and marginalized, by individual interviews either in person or by phone. Most were children of active Catholics who had left the Church or felt the Church had left them.

Skepticism about how our thoughts would be presented was a prevalent feeling. It is not an understatement to say that people were cynical, a sign of distrust of the Church hierarchy. People wondered how “watered down” our words would be once the diocese wrote their synthesis of individual parish reports. Because the diocese shortened the window for submitting parish reports, we only had about 3-4 months to organize ourselves, hold sessions, synthesize all the notes from them, and write the parish report. For a long time, the diocesan priest in charge of the synod process just told us to be creative, not really giving us any direction on how to go about this. When we put together inherent distrust with lack of direction, many of us felt this was the hierarchy’s way of trying to sabotage our efforts.


Nevertheless, we participated. We held listening circles in groups of 5-8 people. Since we had invited ministries, we had a fairly large group gathered in our Commons. We prayed with all the gathered people, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us, before breaking up into smaller groups. I think because we were in a space where prayer happened regularly, we were privileged to be in a graced place and, of course, the Holy Spirit was in charge,. As a participant/observer I felt we had created a safe space where people actually had the freedom to say what was on their mind. And there was relief and gratitude that, at last, the hierarchy was going to listen to us, not just order us around. There were opinions about the Sunday liturgy, the music ministry, social outreach, the youth and more. Universal Church doctrine was addressed. No topic was considered sacrosanct. Hurt over doctrines of the Church, especially concerning the divorced and remarried and LGBTQ+ individuals was evident and when that happened, we stopped for prayers of healing and consolation. That we interrupted the discussion to pray was a sign that the Spirit was present.

The trust that the participants put into the process is a mark, in my opinion, of the Spirit being among us. The signs of the Spirit that I observed were: 1) in the space created for people to feel safe enough; 2) in the pain shared and Spirit's consolation offered right there; 3) in the truths spoken including the skepticism about where this all ends up; 4) and in the desire to hear from those outside the doors of the Church. I don’t know that any of the really hot topics like gender identification, the divorced/remarried and the place of women in the Church will be changed. The Synod on Synodality is about teaching us how to listen to the Spirit. What the official Church does with what the Spirit has lifted out as the hopes, dreams, and anxieties of the people of God around the world remains to be seen. The instrumentum laboris released this past week indicates the Synod will be wrestling with many of our struggles. But what happens after the wrestling remains to be seem. Americans always want ACTION NOW as the way to know we have been heard. But the Spirit works differently, requiring time to continue to listen, to find the "right" way, to learn how to lead the changes that the Spirit always calls for. The instrumentum laboris has created that time and space by its unusual approach and by at least another year being given to the process of discerning, listening, and discerning anew.


This is what I do know. The US Bishops said they have to do synodality better. The Pope has said this is not a program or an event.. It’s a lifestyle, a mindset…the way of being Church that allows for the Holy Spirit to be in charge and for the rest of us to learn how to follow the Spirit’s lead. He said, "Indeed , the purpose of the synodal process 'is not to produce documents but to open horizons of hope for the fulfillment of the Church's mission." (#3 DCS. 6) And I know many parishes and some dioceses have not yet entered into this change of life. The Pentecost Vigil Project is here to support those of you on the #synodjourney already and to assist those of you wishing to join us. Check out our resources, or better yet, contact us and we can talk! It’s always good to follow the Spirit together.



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