‘Listening’ means taking on board the new geometry of the Church: circular, horizontal, ‘multifaceted’, decentralised, itinerant, and non-static, with a centre of gravity beyond its boundaries…
The synodal journey, in the intention of Pope Francis, is a call to renew our being Church, through a method of profound listening to the joys and hopes, sadness and anxieties of the men of our time, as the conciliar pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes says. Walking together presupposes courage, honesty, truth, and charity, as well as openness to conversion and change.
Moreover, this is also what the pope had asked of the bishops and all those who had gathered for the special synod on the Amazon: “What I expect from the Church in this synod: that she is silent and, first of all, in an attentive and prolonged manner, devote herself to listening”.
Pope Francis had already outlined in the apostolic constitution Episcopalis Communio, in 2018, a new praxis for the celebration of the assemblies of the synod of bishops: ordinary, extraordinary or special synods. It defines the Church as ‘constitutively synodal’, in a journey of preparation by stages that begins by listening to the people of God, continues by listening to the pastors and culminates in listening to the bishop of Rome, called to pronounce himself, as pastor and teacher of all Christians. And in a spirit of prayer, he added: “For the Synod, we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: listening to God, to the point of hearing with him the cry of the people, and listening to the people, to the point of breathing in them the will of God who calls us”.
The teaching of Pope Francis
The dimension of listening is a constitutive aspect of the theological and pastoral teaching of Pope Francis, which in the encyclical Laudato Si’ found its most complete expression in the invitation to listen to creation and care for all creatures. Francis teaches that it is definitely time to abandon the disordered anthropocentrism that has brought us to the level of destruction we have reached. There is no longer only our voice, which gives names to all things, as Adam did.
It is time to listen to the voice of creatures, of each of them, so that they may tell us their names and suggest their rhythms and principles of life. This radically changes our attitudes. What would a diocesan pastoral plan be like, for example, in the construction of which priority attention was given to the cry of creation? Our rereading of Genesis can also find an echo in broader readings of other biblical passages that are among the cornerstones of our spiritual references. We could proclaim: “I have come so that everything may have life”; or recall in a more open key the classic passage of Exodus: “I have heard the cry of my people and of my creatures and I have come down to free them”. It is not a question of poor puns, or Biblical irreverence, but of offering popular spirituality symbolic elements that broaden the depth of revelation. There is therefore a close link between synodality and listening.
Listening, however, is also a question of position. I remember that before the synod on the Amazon I was surprised by some communities in Amazonian regions, when a priest, or the bishop himself, arrived during the consultation process in preparation for the synod. They sat down and, perhaps for the first time, instead of imparting formation, giving information or instructions, they paid attention to what the communities had to say. Listening is affirming a new geometry of the Church: circular, horizontal, ‘multifaceted’, decentralized, itinerant and not static, with the centre of gravity outside of itself … This only works if our listening is able to get out of the mould, to distance ourselves from what we would like to hear, or from people who, for various reasons, always tell us what we want to hear confirmed. Therefore, it is essential to dare to listen to the different, the excluded, those who are silenced, even when it is uncomfortable.
This synodal spirit starts from those who are below, from the problems of daily life; it dialogues with different spiritualities, especially ‘those that a false spiritualist pride has excluded or forgotten’.
Silence, first of all
It is clear that our listening skills are ill. In this sense, it is very symbolic that the last healing gesture of Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke (22,51), is precisely the healing of the ear of a servant of the high priest, cut off by the violent reaction of a companion of the Master. Immediately afterwards, the Word of God brings with it a series of episodes in which the inability to listen is evident: Peter with the servant in the courtyard of the high priest, the trial in the Sanhedrin, the dialogue with Pilate, the questions of Herod… The first evidence, in the diagnosis of this disease of ours, is that in order to listen one must be silent. In other words, we must decolonize our relationships: admitting that the encounter can reveal something new… that we don’t have the whole truth… that we don’t have the fanatical mission of convincing the other.
There is a great challenge in contemporary society that is educated to listen selectively and in the harmful reinforcement of the ideas of those who are in the same ‘bubble’.
A possible therapy, faced with this explicit option for deafness, would be the exercise of listening to the distant, the different, the little ones; taking a position of empathy, which does not mean relativizing one’s own beliefs, or adapting to those of the other, but trying to understand the reasons, feelings and fears of the interlocutor. Whenever possible, we must not offer ready-made answers as a frontal alternative but rather raise questions, arouse curiosity, and provoke study.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put the entire planet to the test. Many have defined it as an opportunity to overcome banality, recognize our existential weakness and deepen the mystical dimension, which is the ability to be surprised, in radical amazement, and ask ourselves:
‘Why are we here?’.
Existence is not a right that belongs to us, we are guests… Lastly, listening has to do with the truth. Our ability to listen is inversely proportional to our belief that we know and possess the truth. In Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, truth is defined as “the search for the most solid foundations that underlie our choices” (208).
In John’s Gospel (cf. 14: 6) the truth is found on the journey and in life, exactly like a search, a collective and progressive discovery, a thirsty journey that never ends. In line with this metaphor, it is worth asking what would be a symbol capable of representing our faith, made up of relationships with God and with others; it might be more like an empty jar than a baptismal font.