For almost two years, the Church has been actively engaged in a process of listening and discernment. Maybe you participated in synod conversations at your parish, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you chatted about topics with friends or colleagues, maybe you didn’t. But very soon, this Synod on Synodality will enter its next phase: a gathering at the Vatican that uniquely brings together clergy, consecrated religious and laity to continue, well, being synodal.
“The Synod is about dialogue: among the baptized, among members of the Church, on the life of the Church, on dialogue with the world, on the problems that affect humanity today,” Pope Francis said in a press conference Sept. 4.
In preparation for this dialogue scheduled for Oct. 4-29, an Instrumentum Laboris (IL), or working document, was released this past summer as a starting point for the conversation, as is customary before synod gatherings.
“The IL is not a document of the Holy See, but of the whole Church,” Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the General Secretariat of the Synod, said when the document was first released. “You will not find in the text a theoretical systematic explanation of synodality, but the fruit of a Church experience, of a journey in which we have all learnt more by walking together and questioning ourselves on the meaning of this experience.”
Worksheets within the IL will serve as discussion prompts for synod delegates, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, on all manner of topics affecting the life of the Church today.
What’s especially interesting to me as a communicator is that, at its core, this synod demands good communication skills of its participants. They must know when to speak and when not to speak. They must understand how to make a point or observation effectively and concisely. They must listen with empathy and respect. They must be polite, yet truthful. They must be in the moment completely, not planning one’s response in the midst of another’s intervention. These are the skills needed for fruitful conversations and communication.
It’s very similar to how we ought to function in a family, isn’t it? Love demands willing the good of the other, not of one’s self — and that means we must be more interested in what the other person has to say than in that excellent point that we, ourselves, must get across.
“In the family, we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one other yet are so important to each other,” said Pope Francis in his message for the 49th World Communications Day in 2015, one of my favorites of his. “This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness.”
Of course, we are not always great at good communication — in our homes, in our society, in our Church. We are not always good at assuming the best of those who are speaking to us, or of being truly open to what another has to say. But this is how bridges are built, and this is how communion is achieved.
As synod delegates convene in Rome for the month of October, they have a unique opportunity to model and exercise excellent communication. They have the opportunity to, as the Rule of St. Benedict dictates, “listen with the ear of the heart.”
Please join me in praying not only for the effective discernment of the will of God for the Church, but for truly excellent communication among all who represent her next month.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV News.