2nd sunday in ordinary time
16th january 2022
Year C – Psalter Week 2
I would like this weekend to share a little on the Synod that Pope Francis is inviting us to be part of. On this subject, Bishop David has said the following: ‘Synods are an ancient form of church gatherings, stretching back to the Acts of the Apostles. Now Pope Francis is asking us to gather in the same way. He has called a Synod in 2023 which will involve all of us. As Pope Francis said at the worldwide launch: “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us… Let us listen to one another.” I am asking us all to get involved in our diocesan synod process. This is not a parliamentary system in which there are winners and losers. Instead, this is about graceful listening and graceful speaking, in which each person’s contribution is valued. Each one of us has the opportunity to speak and be listened to; but also to seek out those who do not usually speak, and those whose voices are not usually heard. The conversations we have together will inform the future direction of our diocese. Pope Francis is very clear: “The purpose of this Synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be.”’
The parish has received a Synod Handbook, which explains that ‘one of the key aims of the Synod process is to give us a new way of listening, to one another, and to the Holy Spirit.’ In his homily during the launch of the Synod, Pope Francis reflected upon the example of listening set by the Jesus himself when a rich young man asks him a crucial question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Pope Francis explained that ‘so important a question requires attention, time, willingness to encounter others and sensitivity to what troubles them. The Lord does not stand aloof; he does not appear annoyed or disturbed. Instead, he is completely present to this person. He is open to encounter. Nothing leaves Jesus indifferent; everything is of concern to him. Encountering faces, meeting eyes, sharing each individual’s history. That is the closeness that Jesus embodies. He knows that someone’s life can be changed by a single encounter. The Gospel is full of such encounters with Christ, encounters that uplift and bring healing. Jesus did not hurry along, or keep looking at his watch to get the meeting over. He was always at the service of the person he was with, listening to what he or she had to say.’ The Pope went on to say that ‘most importantly, [Jesus] was not afraid to listen to [the young man] with his heart and not just with his ears… This happens whenever we listen with the heart: people feel that they are being heard, not judged; they feel free to recount their own experiences and their spiritual journey.’ 
The Parish Synod Handbook offers the following pointers as to how we may begin to engage in this process of gracious listening and speaking with one another and in groups:
- Being fully present to the person speaking
- Respecting everyone’s right to an opinion – even if you strongly disagree
- Choosing not to make judgements about others
- Not speaking for too long
- Speaking for ourselves and not others
- Keeping a sense of humour and perspective
- Respecting the confidentiality of the group
- Being prepared to apologise, if necessary, and to forgive often
- Being open to the Holy Spirit
Having personally attended a diocesan training day on this subject, it struck me that the Synod is offering the whole church a very helpful teaching in the art of dialogue, something that is much needed in our times of often polarised opinions, and what has come to be termed the ‘cancel culture’, when individuals or groups of people are effectively ostracised from social media or in person because they have a differing opinion to others.
In the light of Pope Francis’ teaching, we are encouraged to reflect on our own style of listening by pondering the following questions:
- Think of a time you have been listened to in a way that afterwards, you felt understood. Re-live the conversation, as much as you can remember. What did that person do or not do that signified that they were listening and understanding? What was it that made that experience so special? Can you identify anything of Jesus’ style of listening in that experience?
2. Think about the way we talk to one another. What are your own bad habits around listening? How can we avoid these in our conversations?
Finally, Pope Francis explains that becoming a synodal church means exploring ideas of communion, participation and mission. The following questions posed by our diocese encourage us to express our experiences of church in these areas. At the same time, the very act of having shared conversations helps us to become a more synodal church.
Communion: conversations lead to a new experience of Church
- What does it mean to you to be a Catholic?
Participation: the people of God talk and listen graciously to one another about questions that matter
- What are some of your experiences of the Church doing something well?
- What are some of your experiences of when things have not gone so well?
Mission: Our thoughts are turned to those outside the church walls
- What are our dreams for the Church?
We are all invited to participate in this synod process, and I would like to invite you to contact Nuala, whose number is in the parish newsletter or on our parish website, by the end of January if you would like to take part. I would also like to invite our present parish groups to think about holding their own time of listening and sharing. We can then, as a parish, feed back to our diocese in February.
Whatever the outcome of the Synod, I believe that the process in which we are being schooled will be helpful in parish life generally, and especially in discerning ways in which the Lord may be calling us to deeper communion and mission.
 Mark 10:17.
 Pope Francis, Homily during the Launch of the Synod on 9 October 2020.
The bridegroom rejoices in his bride.
Proclaim the wonders of the Lord among all the peoples.
1 corinthians 12:4-11
One and the same Spirit, who distributes gifts to different people just as he chooses.
This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee.
Even if you have to die, says the Lord,
keep faithful, and I will give you
the crown of life.