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Listening as one living organism

Next step in strategic pastoral planning process is taking a deliberate time to encounter, listen and discern

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Have you ever gone on a trip with your family and the stress of the travel made you short with each other, with relationships frayed on the way? Sure enough, you reached your destination, but how you got there left something to be desired; some relational recovery was required before you could really enjoy your destination together.

Let’s take a lesson from that as we engage in pastoral planning.

I want to say something about the process aspect of our planning because “how we get there” is really important. That’s why, as the next step in our pastoral planning process, we’re going to have 400 listening sessions throughout the archdiocese. Yes, you read that correctly: 400!

Why so many?

First, because God gave us two ears and one mouth to let us know that we should do more listening than talking. I, and the pastoral planning team, have done some talking to initiate the process. Now, in obedience to the way God made us, we’re going to do a lot of listening before we make any plans.

Are we really going to listen? This is my pledge to you: Yes!

We could do this process by listening to numbers alone. But that’s not the Church at her best. One thing we’ve learned from other dioceses is that pastoral planning without deep listening doesn’t work; it doesn’t renew strength so much as it creates resentments, and we want to avoid that.

One of our main goals at the end of this process is that the Church will act as one living organism in proclaiming the Gospel. But the process has to reflect, reinforce and contribute to that goal. So, first, we’re going to listen as one living organism.

If you’ve ever asked the Holy Spirit for help, and then engaged in deep listening, you know that the process is full of surprises. The Holy Spirit never ceases to amaze us. A key feature of what happens is well described in stories like “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Lord of the Rings”: The biggest contribution comes from those, if you had prejudged the issue by appearance, you would have thought would be the smallest contributors. I take that lesson to heart. So if you think you’re just a small player, I say: We need you to be part of the process!

Pope Francis has asked the entire Church to engage in a synodal process. In his opening homily for this process, he said he wanted to reflect on three words: encounter, listen, and discern. That’s true to his Jesuit roots, and those roots are meant to be a gift to the whole Church. So, consistent with the Holy Father’s request, we’ll be doing exactly that in the next step of our pastoral planning process: taking a deliberate time to encounter, listen and discern. Watch for details about how you can participate, and please join us!

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