Shepherd's Voice January 2022 - LISTENING - THE MAIN LESSON FROM SYNODALITY

The synodal process is engaging the entire Catholic Church in moments of intense listening and dialogue, reflection and prayer, reconciliation and healing. Perhaps the synodal strains will last the whole of 2022 as the year progresses and we will have covered the significant stages of the journey towards the diocesan synod and beyond. There is no doubt, very important and lasting lessons will be learnt for our life as Christians both individually and collectively through the synodal process. It is important to keep before our eyes at the very start of the New Year 2022 the inalienable dimensions of our life as disciples of Christ and members of the Church brought to the fore by the synodal process. I can see LISTENING as the one main lesson the synodal process is teaching us.

LISTENING is the pivot on which the entire synod revolves and is the very being of the Church. As members of the one Body of Christ we are called to listen to one another without prejudice and this requires an open mind and heart and also humility. The Gospel clearly leads us in this direction without mincing words. For instance, the Beatitudes (cf. Mt. 5: 3-11).

Listening is the quality of the People of God irrespective of the offices we hold within the Body of Christ or the socio-economic status we enjoy in society; nobody is excluded and nobody is on the ‘periphery’ or ‘marginalized’. In order to listen to one another in dialogue we have to come out of our isolation and be ready to meet with one another, sit together, respect one another, appreciate one another, affirm the other’s dignity and give value to what each one is sharing without the slightest hint of making the other feel uncomfortable. We listen to the other person as ‘person’ with his/her feelings, emotional needs, life’s background, experiences to share and ideas to convey. This kind of an attitude makes for healthy relationships within a community and builds up self-confidence in the hearts of all participants. It is in listening together that we come to know that we are ‘walking’ or ‘journeying’ together. ‘Listening’ requires an effort but the effort is never impossible by the grace of God.

The Church is communion, and listening is of the very essence of communion. By listening we build up our communion at every level beginning from the family. We cannot communicate when we are not listening to one another and without communication there is no communion and without communion there is no love and vice-versa. If our relationships have to be strengthened, we need to listen to one another which demands that we meet each other face to face. When we are ready to listen, our prejudices begin to disappear, walls begin to crumble, positive energy is generated and a healthy environment is created for acceptance of each other in true friendship and the love and affection that should define the life of the children of God.

The ‘Small Christian Community’ is the right locus for the members of the Church to listen to one another as disciples of Christ but the purpose will never be fulfilled if all people of God living in a neighbourhood do not come together to share the Gospel with one another. We may not have seriously pondered over this truth - resistance to the Small Christian Community is resistance to the Holy Spirit who never ceases to challenge us to that true unity and communion in Christ into which we are inserted through Baptism.

In the Acts of the Apostles the nascent Church born in the Holy Spirit is beautifully described as a communion or fellowship in which the members listen to the Holy Spirit, to the Word, to the Apostles and to one another. It is this ‘listening’ that enables them to hold “all things in common” (Acts 2:44) and at the same time be powerful witnesses of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ whereby “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

‘Discernment of spirits’ is an inseparable part of listening. In fact, communion-listening- participation-discernment of spirits-mission are inter-related and inter-changeable. We have to constantly ask ourselves from which ‘spirit’ our thoughts, words and actions emanate - from the Spirit of God or from the spirit of sin within me, my broken self. The Preparatory Document for the Synod mentions as ‘emblematic’ in the discernment of spirits the episode of Cornelius and Peter (cf. Acts 10: 1-33) and the event of the ’Council of Jerusalem’ (cf. Acts: 15). Both these happenings constitute a crucial reference point for a synodal Church.

The episode of Cornelius and Peter is a powerful testimony to the way in which the Spirit is leading Cornelius to Christ and Peter also to a conversion from his former very narrow and exclusivist vision of faith to the new inclusivist and universal vision of God’s Kingdom revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of his Spirit on the Apostles, the Church and the whole world. Both Cornelius and Peter then involve other people in their journey of conversion, making them companions in their journey. The apostolic action accomplishes God’s will by creating community, breaking down barriers and promoting encounters. Both listen to the Spirit together who leads them to listen to each other and involve others to do the same so that all come to know the true nature of the Church.

So also, the Council of Jerusalem is a process of discernment that consists of listening together to the Spirit. Together the Apostolic College discerned that the Gentiles who enter the Church do not need to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses as long they believe in their hearts and confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We must have realized it – when we listen to one another with patience and sense of affirmation and acceptance of the other we also listen to ourselves. Listening to ourselves is indispensable to building communion and participation which the synodal process is asking of us. The deeper we enter into ourselves the more we touch the sources of our joy and our pain, the reason for our behaviour and attitudes, the ‘why’ of the good and bad part of us and the path we need to take in order to forgive, to love unconditionally, to change our perspectives and to become persons who are fully human and fully alive.

To Listen is to Heal by Albert J. Nimeth (Better Yourself Books, Bandra, 1988) is a little but deeply reflective book on Listening. Chapter 4 is on listening to ourselves:

Listening to Ourselves is a way to help heal ourselves. To achieve peace of mind, to gain a measure of contentment, we have to listen to the answers we give to these questions: Who am I? What am I? Why am I? Where am I going? How do I get there? If we listen to our answers, we get a deeper understanding of our uniqueness. Each of us has a fund of gifts. Each of us has special talents. Each of us has individual opportunities. To underestimate our true worth creates hurt. To heal the hurt we have to accept our real worth. To be sure we all have our hang-ups and foibles. These often are confused and confusing. We have to learn to distinguish between the real and imaginary. If we listen carefully, we will stop beating the air; we will stop wasting time in pointless struggle. If we listen to ourselves, we keep in touch with past memories of successes. These memories beget confidence for the present and future. The challenge is to really listen… No two snowflakes are alike, yet each is beautiful. No two sunsets are alike yet each is glorious. No two human beings are alike yet each has a glory; each has a beauty we must accept and appreciate. When we listen to ourselves carefully, honestly, we discover our glory, our beauty. It is healing to listen to ourselves.

There is no gainsaying the fact that we will never be able to listen to one another and to ourselves unless we listen to God speaking to us in the depths of our hearts. Therefore, the Word of God, prayer and silence are indispensable for our Christian life of discipleship, communion, participation and mission.

The synodal process is encouraging us to be a community of prayer individually and collectively in the way Christ our Lord has taught us to pray by his word and his example.

At his baptism which happened along with all other ‘ordinary’ people who were being baptized Jesus is seen praying (cf. Lk. 3:21). Soon after his baptism he is led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast for forty days and forty nights and overcome the temptations of the evil one by his communion with the Father. Again, before choosing his twelve Apostles he spent the whole night in prayer (cf. Lk. 6:12). Before teaching us the ‘Our Father’ Jesus was “praying in a certain place” and when had finished one of the disciples asked him “Lord, teach us to pray” (cf. Lk. 11:1), and so he teaches the ‘Our Father’. Knowing that he would be arrested and condemned to death Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives, according to his custom, to pray and be in communion with the Father in his agony during which he sweated blood. The disciples followed him and at that moment he exhorts them “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:40). His seven last words on the cross are his final prayer to the Father in which stands out his cry of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34) and having accomplished his mission on earth he surrenders his spirit into the hands of the Father saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (cf. Lk. 23:46) and breathes his last.

Through his life, death and resurrection Jesus our Lord has revealed to us the great truth that prayer is to be in communion with the Father as he was in communion with the Father all his life unto the last. This is ultimately what prayer is: “that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn. 10: 38). He has called us to abide in him like the branches in the vine (cf. Jn 15: 1-17) and this communion of ours is in the Holy Trinity – the Father-Son and Spirit (cf. Jn 14:23).

In the midst of the interior and exterior cacophony we need interior and exterior silence and contemplation to enter into this communion with the Holy Trinity which is the foundation of the Church. Then and then only will we be the People of God that listens to the Holy Spirit.

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