Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, walking together. Let us look at Jesus (in Mk 10:17). First, He encounters the rich man on the road; He then listens to his questions, and finally, He helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life. Encounter, listen and discern … three verbs that characterize the Synod.
The first is encounter. A man comes up to Jesus and kneels down before Him, asking Him a crucial question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord does not stand aloof. He is open to encounter … He knows that someone’s life can be changed by a single encounter. The Gospel is full of such encounters with Christ, encounters that uplift and bring healing. He was always at the service of the person He was with, listening to what he or she had to say.
As we initiate this process, we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter. Taking time to encounter the Lord and one another. Time to devote to prayer and to adoration and to hearing what the Spirit wants to say to the Church. Time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build rapport, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers, to let ourselves be enriched by the variety of charisms, vocations and ministries. So often, God points out new paths. He invites us to leave our old habits behind. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with Him and with one another, without formalism or pretense, but simply as we are.
The second verb is listen. True encounter arises only from listening. Jesus listened to that man’s question and to the religious and existential concerns that lay behind it … He listens to him with His heart and not just with His ears. Indeed, He does more than simply answer the rich man’s question; He lets him tell his story, to speak freely about himself. Christ reminds him of the commandments and the man starts to talk about his youth, to share his religious journey and his efforts to seek God. This happens whenever we listen with the heart: people feel that they are being heard, not judged.
Let us ask ourselves frankly during this synodal process: Are we good at listening? How good is the “hearing” of our heart? Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected or judged? Participating in a Synod means placing ourselves on the same path as the Word made flesh. It means following in His footsteps, listening to His Word along with the words of others. It means discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us, to suggest fresh paths and new ways of speaking. It is a slow and perhaps tiring exercise, this learning to listen to one another – bishops, priests, religious and laity, all the baptized – and to avoid artificial and shallow and pre-packaged responses. The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another.
Finally, discern. Encounter and listening are not ends in themselves, leaving everything just as it was before. In the end, we are no longer the same; we are changed. We see this in [Mark’s Gospel]. Jesus senses that the person before Him is a good and religious man, obedient to the commandments, but He wants to lead him beyond the mere observance of precepts. Through dialog, He helps him to discern. Jesus encourages that man to look within, in the light of the love that the Lord, Himself, had shown by His gaze, and to discern in that light what his heart truly treasures. And in this way to discover that he cannot attain happiness by filling his life with more religious observances, but by emptying himself, selling whatever takes up space in his heart, in order to make room for God.
The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialog with the Word of God. It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit. In these days, Jesus calls us, as He did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models; and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time and [what is] the direction in which He wants to lead us.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us have a good journey together! May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. Let us not miss out on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment. In the joyful conviction that, even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.