Since Pope Francis called for a worldwide Synod on Synodality nearly two years ago, there have been many listening sessions here and around the world to hear from as many of the baptized as possible.
People clearly appreciated being asked to share their hopes and desires for our church. They also shared intimate stories of the wounds that need healing, such as the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis — not only for those who were abused, but also for the broader community affected by the revelations. They spoke of divisions over the traditional Latin Mass, lack of appreciation for women in the church, especially their exclusion from leadership roles, and racism experienced by people of color — both in society and the church.
Many people feel unwelcome or overlooked, including those from diverse cultural and ethnic communities, the poor, those on the margins of society, the divorced and remarried and LGBTQ men, women and youth.
I have met with numerous people who have expressed deep pain as a result of wounds left by their experience within the church.
It is not easy to hear these stories of pain and neglect. But it is an important part of the healing process for people to be heard, and for the church not to immediately defend or try to problem-solve, but to listen in order to understand. This is a necessary first step, and we honor those who have shared their experiences.
What happens now? Do we wait for the Synod to unfold, sit back and wait for the end document from the Synod of Bishops in October 2023 and 2024? No. We continue what has begun, seeking structural change in our way of being a “local church” that accompanies others well.
Because it is not easy to hear what those who are hurting have to say, all of us can ask for the grace to know better our own fears and biases, especially regarding the need to be a more inclusive church. We must ask for the grace to see those who feel overlooked and unwelcome.
People have expressed a clear desire for the church to be a place where people not only feel welcome, but also feel at home. This improvement can and should begin now, with local parishes. Let’s make a concerted effort to be better listeners. Our society has grown comfortable associating only with like-minded people. The culture itself is dehumanizing because it does not lend itself to relationships. We need to be intentional about building relationships within our faith community.
Patience is also needed. We have a natural desire for immediate results. Prayer is not just something with which to appease everyone after so much sharing of personal experience. Rather, it is the engine driving our ability to truly “sift” what we have heard — not just hearing a person’s words, but listening for what God is revealing about the church he desires us to become.
Prayer is the heart of discernment, which opens our hearts to receive and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Becoming a church that listens is the long game for Pope Francis. Becoming a church that beats with the heart of the Good Shepherd is the path to being a church capable of healing the ecclesial wounds of all our people.