There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is basically a physical function that involves the ears. On the other hand, listening is more of an internal process that uses the ears, but also involves the mind and heart. A couple of years ago, I was at a luncheon with a group of retired priests. For more than twenty minutes, the priests at my table discussed which hearing aid was the best. I sat there quietly as they discussed which ones felt more comfortable in the ear and which ones canceled out background noise. I thought to myself, “One day, I too will be addressing these same issues in my life.” Towards the end of their discussion, one priest wisely added, “No matter how good these hearing aids are, they do very little to help us listen better … that part is up to us!”
His point was well-taken. We can have the best hearing in the world, but it takes real attention and effort to be a good listener, too. Some people seem to have a natural gift to listen well. Nevertheless, you have probably encountered some people in our society who prefer to monologue instead of dialogue. To dialogue, one must embrace the humble position of not only speaking but listening, too.
Our Holy Father has asked that the Church begin a process of “listening.” It is called the Synod on Synodality. “In creating the opportunity for listening and dialogue on the local level through this Synod, Pope Francis is calling the Church to rediscover its deeply synodal nature. This rediscovery of the synodal roots of the Church will involve a process of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium.” (Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality, section 1.1)
In other words, the entire people of God, not just the Diocese of Joliet, will enter into a process of “listening” to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. Obviously, we need to listen to the Word of God in Scripture and to the living tradition of the Church, and we also need to listen to each other as we discern the signs of the time.
Specifically, to foster a Church that is synodal, the Holy Father has asked us to focus on communion, participation and mission. Recently, Pope Francis wrote, “The Holy Spirit needs you. Listen to Him by listening to yourselves.”
I have heard officials in the Church refer to this Synod on Synodality as a worldwide “listening tour” that begins at the local Church to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us as to what the Church should be. In the Diocese of Joliet, our “listening tour” began with an inaugural Mass at our Cathedral on October 17. People from all over the diocese gathered as we launched this desire to listen to one another. We will continue to offer listening sessions that include our many councils and boards — such as the presbyteral council, pastoral council, women’s council, etc. — as well as leaders of Hispanic ministry, religious orders, Catholic schools and religious education. Their comments will be collected, and a report will be sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. After that, there are timelines in which further discussions, drafts and findings will be collected at continental/regional assemblies. This synod process will then conclude with bishops and lay Catholics gathering in Rome in 2023 to discuss the themes and findings from this worldwide listening tour.
There are many people who are already wondering if this Synod on Synodality will lead to any changes in the Church. That is yet to be seen. However, as our society continues to become more polarized with often a preference of monologue over dialogue, this process of listening with open minds and hearts will hopefully give us the opportunity to not only hear one another but also to learn from, empathize with and love one another more deeply. Veni, Sancte Spiritus!
Adsumus, Sancte Spiritus
We stand before You, Holy Spirit,
as we gather together in Your name. With You alone to guide us,
make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful;
do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity
so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth
and what is right. All this we ask of You,
who are at work in every place and time,
in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen