By Sister Mindy Welding, IHM
I’ve done a lot of sitting. I sit among the Sisters in my Congregation, wise elders and newer religious. I’ve sat for a very long time with youth and young adults, discerners. I sit with those seeking spiritual direction and retreatants. I sit among the religious women, men and priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I’ve practice synodality for quite a while; I’ve been blessed with the tools and practice afforded me in my life.
Religious have grown in the way we assemble ourselves for dialogue, calling upon the Holy Spirit for guidance and for wisdom. We sit in silence listening to the movements of God among us as we practice contemplative dialogue; this dialogue asks us to listen deeply to one another without judgement and keeping at bay our own agenda and emotions. It is difficult work but when practiced it widens our lens to include others we may have never included or listened to before. It allows our heart to expand.
This is what Pope Francis is calling us to in this Synod of Synodality. In a world that seems to have shut out everyone but one’s own wants, ignoring the common good for selfish, individualistic ideas we are being called to be counter-cultural. Francis is calling us to gather, faithful and those who have been feeling isolated or unheard. This is a movement toward truly listening – we, as Church, leadership and decision makers – to sit in a circle of one-ness. This synodality brings us together on equal footing.
A recent article in Commonweal Magazine spoke volumes to me about how we as Church can follow what religious communities have been practicing synodality (we don’t always succeed, mind you. We are not perfect!) The writer of “Speak Boldly, Listen Carefully,” Austen Ivereigh, wrote in the October 21, 2021 issue:
“Along with obedience and authority, there are two elements that are important within these collaborative gatherings that are hoped for in the Synodal gatherings. The first is discernment….”
Discernment is a deep listening to the Spirit among us paying attention to what is being said, paying attention to “the timid edges, to the unlikely places, to those outside.” (Ivereigh)
The second is “consultation and deliberation” which is “not separate from the life of prayer but intrinsic to it.” This calls for:
“Attentive listening to others, straining for the whispers of the Spirit even in the mouths of people we resent or disagree with. It calls for giving time to all in equal measure, for speaking honestly and boldly but not hammering others with our views, for sitting in peaceful, open silence so that we can hear what words do not always say…” (Ivereigh).
Synodality requires us to understand that we, as individuals, do not possess the whole truth, but that when we set aside out own emotions and agendas, our narrow channels of thinking will open wide and expand our hearts. It isn’t easy work. Are we willing to listen, deeply? Will we pray for the grace to do so and to pray that the Holy Spirit surround us and guide us? This is synodality at its best.
Invite one another to pray, listen deeply and engage.