Central to each of these two processes are the essential qualities of listening and dialogue. Some reject these as ‘not the way the Church works’. This is sad and a little disappointing for it is far from the truth.
If people have been following along and have been part of these processes, which have been at work in earnest since 2018, then they might have had a taste of what the International Theological Commission’s document, Synodality in the life and mission of the Church (March 2018), describes:
‘In the synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyse, dialogue, discern and offer advice on taking pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will.’ (#68)
It is not an easy read, however, a careful and considered read ought allay any fears that some may have. If we take, as we must, two pillars which help to shape our faith, the Scriptures and the liturgy, we see that dialogue is in the Church’s DNA.
For us missionary disciples of Christ, the dialogue is never an even one because it is always initiated by God.
In our great act of worship, the Eucharist, we begin with dialogue: ‘The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.’ Intentionally and deliberatively we come to prayer as a people in dialogue with the God who draws us into the communion of the Trinity. Patiently, like the Father awaiting the prodigal, the Father awaits our response.
In every aspect throughout the liturgy there is this dialogical thread into which we are not only drawn but must respond. We are not simply passive spectators at the Eucharist but we come as those who actively and consciously participate in this dialogical prayer.
As human beings, who are created in the image and likeness of God, we are made for and called to communion; communion with God and communion with one another, with our best self and, as St Paul reminds us, the whole of creation. The calling to communion with the Lord is of course primary, while communion with our sisters and brothers; our best self and the whole of creation, finds its fullness in and through communion with the Lord. We are united to one another precisely through being united to Christ, which is why the Church fathers teach that the Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist. Communion with the Lord beckons us, prepares us, enables us to be in communion with others, our best self and the whole of creation. Communion, dialogue, calls to communion.
So too with listening. Where is it more the case than the liturgy that we are called upon to listen deeply than the liturgy and the Scriptures?
Throughout the Scriptures we see this same pattern of God initiating and drawing us into the mystery of God’s love, awaiting our response. So often this dynamic is expressed in the form of a covenant. Never covenant between equals, but always a covenant of nurturing love.
The recurring biblical phrase ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people’ (or similar) is to be found throughout the Scriptures. It is never a static invitation. It is an invitation to not only be God’s people and enter into the life of God.
Pope Francis is not inventing anything here. He is not leading down a cul de sac, rather he is reminding us of what is at the essence of the Church, what is in our DNA. Dialogue and listening. Sometimes the distractions of the present time cause us to forget our deep and abiding mission.
We are called to proclaim the Gospel to the people of our time, not in a fearful way, but rather a hope-filled way. While we may not like the idea of change, what is at work here is a slightly different reality, namely transformation. Daily, the Church is being transformed into a deeper, more authentic form of the Body of Christ, this being accomplished by God’s grace through the transformational instruments of dialogue and listening.
Living the gift of communion
Let us never stray too far from the first question of the journey to the Plenary Council, ‘What do you think God is asking us in the Church in Australia at this time?’.
This is all very nice in so far as it goes. Yet as a diocese, in our parish communities and other groups, in our schools and other agencies these are the very qualities into which we are called to engage in our discernment and decision making. This is a great, but not unattainable challenge and a grace-filled opportunity. Let us continue to journey together along the way to the Father, with Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Do not fear reactivating these essential elements of the DNA of our Church, dialogue and listening, for out of them come hope and life.
God is good, good indeed.