Inspirational insights from Dr Jessy Rogers at the Convocation of the Plenary
At the beginning we listened to the Aboriginal elder Dr Miriam Rose call us to listen to deep listening “dadirri”. To stop, and realise the connection we all have to the earth.
Relax your muscles. We sit in stillness. We close our eyes We attend to your breathing Wait for the seasons to come. We practice Dadirri when we wait for the seasons to come. We sit in stillness. Similarly, when we deeply listen to people of other cultures and learn to find similarities and respect for the differences, we become inclusive. Everyone belongs! We are all in relationship with each other. With deep listening, we discover too that we have relationships with the land. If adopted, this deep listening would bring about the peace we so dearly strive for.
Miriam’s hope was that everyone practises deep listening.
Dr Jessy Rogers from Ireland, provided what the Plenary meant as an international church.
Pope Francis has called the church to become a synodal church. Synodality needs mechanisms and processes to enable it to happen. This is what plenary councils and plenary councils do. Those are what enable it. Synodality itself is actually a way of being church.
To become a synodal church requires the conversion of the imagination. As well as new ways of doing things. It is a journey.
The word comes from 2 Greek words “suun” or “With” and “hodos” meaning “Way or journey”. It literally means “being on the road together”.
2 important parts to notice about the word. First, it is a journey. Journey implies movement, process, progress and change.
In faith language, “synodality” recognises that in true tradition is the Holy Spirit at work in the church through time. Tradition has deep roots. But, it is always opening to newness which God brings into being.
Secondly, it is a journey together. Vatican II led to a synod of Bishops which advises the pope. Instead of the pope ruling like a monarch. Also, from Vatican II, we have what theologians call “sensus fidelium”. The unerring sense of the faith which all the faithful will share. I do not think Vatican II in itself was able to bring those 2 things together.
Pope Francis is expanding the “together” part of synodality. To include all the faithful. The journeying we are called to do is the embracing of all the diversity that makes up the universal church.
This is evident in the road map which has been drawn up for the synod on synodality. A synod of bishops which will be held in Rome in 2023. That will meet together to discuss matters of relevance for the world wide church. But, before they get there, they have to listen carefully, and they have to listen to everyone.
As part of the road map there is suppose to be a synod or deep listening in every single diocese which would allow the local bishop to listen to the voice of God through the people.
Then there will be more continental synods where a regional express of the world wide church can be heard and discerned.
It is only after all these steps, that the synod of bishops will meet in Rome in 2023.
But, what hopefully will be heard at the table is that there is not just bishops voices but the voices of all of God’s people.
A synodal pathway is not one where there an interest groups jockeying for position and trying to impose their own values and visions on everyone else. This is not meant to be a process where there are winners and losers.
It is a process where we continue walking together in our differences. Holding the tensions. Discerning together not what we want, but what God’s invitation is to the church.
The major inspiration in the words of Saint Paul is to “keep in step with the Spirit”.
Pope Francis in “Let us Dream” speaks of overflow. Overflow is that which happens is what happens when those who hold different perspectives keep talking and keep listening together to God’s Spirit. Until, something new opens up. Something that is not just a comprise but a whole new possibility. That resolves impasse in a new and surprising way. A way that each side of the debate could not come to on their own. This break through or over throw is evident that the spirit of God is at work.
As human beings on our own, we can do difference, we can also do “uniformity”. “Unity in diversity” really take divine creativity and is evident of the Spirit of God at work.
But, to stay engaged until something new, this overflow can happen, requires trust. It requires trust in each other. It requires trust in God, and it requires trust in the process.
One example of overflow on the synod on the family. There was a lot of debate and tension about re-married persons receiving communion. You have these imposing and entrenched positions. Leading to conflict and stalemate. But, the overflow came, when somebody pointed out, something in the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Where Aquinas said “there is no general rule that can apply to every situation”. It was realising that and taking that on board which allowed the synod to agree on the need for a case-by-case discernment. Thus, the solution was the overflow of the Holy Spirit around that issue calls for accompaniment and to be attentive to the way grace is at work in the nitty gritty of life.
This was not a solution that the hard liners or the people seeking general inclusivity could come up with on their own. It was a solution that needed them to be staying engaged. This is another step on the synodal journey.
Synodal discernment is not just about resolving ideas. But, having difficult conversations, naming issues, staying committed to the process and cultivating humility and openness.
It requires us to avoid 2 temptations. One, to break into factions, to take on an us verses them mind set. This is seen in what Pope Francis calls “the isolated conscious”. Individuals or groups who become convinced that “we alone have the whole truth” and so disengage from the wider church. That means that the church is deprived of what those unique individuals could give. As well as that, the isolated person or group are themselves diminished. No one part of the body has all the gifts that God gives to the whole. That is one temptation is the isolate conscious.
Second, on the other side is the opposite temptation which is “peace as the avoidance of conflict”. Peacemakers have to stay engaged in the process. They have to make peace. They have to say difficult things and name what others want to ignore or deny.
I believe that the “Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform” response to the agenda of the plenary council is a good example of exactly that.
Synodality is hard work. We have to live it into existence. My experience of synods is that the prayerful and formational preparation of members. The role of listening to their own interior dynamic so that they can hear beyond the noise of their own hopes and fears and become effective listening instruments is indispensable.
Pope Francis, as a Jesuit, has introduced discernment to synodality. Discernment is about paying attention to what is really happening. Within us and within the world. So that we can make wise decisions in line with God’s actions and God’s invitation.
Pope Francis models the SEE – JUDGE – ACT methodology. But, to use Pope Francis terms from his book “Let us dream” rather SEE – CHOOSE – ACT.Listening processes are about seeing. To see is to pay careful attention to what is really there. We have not seen something until we have correctly named it.
The nuncio to the Synod in Liverpool in England said “The problem is that we are obsessed with theoretical speechters or ideas which never touch reality. When we don’t know what to say we start with theoretical or moral recommendations. This approach of your seems to me to be seemly practical. You are speaking and calling the problems with their names”.
That quote demonstrates a good listening process.
The next step, judging or choosing, requires that we bring the light of the Gospel to what we have seen. I hope in any discernment process, including the plenary, that this is the radical untamed Gospel that is brought to bear. Not, a domesticated version which comforts the comfortable.
Lastly, there needs to be concrete actions which put into action what has been chosen. These actions, if we believe that God is at work in the real world, and inviting us to be along side. These actions should be God’s sized and they should be rooted in reality.
Catholics are not yet very good at synodality. But, this is the only way forward.
What I would like to see from the Plenary council is that all parties stay commited and engaged in the process. Real issues need to be named and faced head on. That overflow happens and that God surprises you.