NGUYEN: Listening… a crucial skill for growth

February 22, 2022

Faith grows more vibrant when we as Catholics journey together as missionary disciples. A crucial lifelong skill is the art of listening… to others in our family, in our parish, in our community… and especially to the Holy Spirit.

Each day we are bombarded with information from people in our families and workplaces, from news broadcasts, and from online sources such as podcasts, videos, and voice-enhanced emails and text messages. But do we really listen or just hear words?

Pope Francis has asked us to gather in our communities to listen and discern the will of God and the Holy Spirit for His Church. Our Holy Father has launched a two-year Synodal path (2021-2023). This process will enable “the entire people of God to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another, for this listening creates space for us to hear the Holy Spirit together, and to guide our aspirations for the Church of the third millennium” (Synod Theme Document).

Trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council Fathers of the Vatican II believed that when the People of God — bishops, priests, consecrated and lay men and women — listen to one another together to discern under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the sacred teaching authority, and show the universal agreement in matters of faith and morals, they cannot err (Lumen Gentium, par. 12, Synod Preparatory Document, par. 13).

In his December 2020 book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, the Holy Father clearly states that Synodality does not involve changing “traditional truths of Christian doctrine;” rather, it is concerned with “how teaching can be lived and applied in the changing contexts of our times.” Its purpose is to help address the reality of our present situation.

To understand current reality, we must gather as a parish community and share our personal perceptions of today through prayer, dialogue, and attentive listening.
Careful listening in a faith community also requires moments of silence.

Listening to what others have to say is often a risk-taking venture, yet it is required for perception, thought and action. If we only “hear” what is safe and familiar, there is no motivation for improvement or change. Pope Francis reminds us: “The Church that teaches must first be the Church that listens.” (Let Us Dream). “Without silence, words lose their meaning; without speaking, listening no longer heals” (Henri Nouwen).

Walking together on the path of Synodality, we are seeking to make pastoral decisions that reflect the will of God as closely as possible, grounding them in the living voice of the people of God.

As our local Church begins to answer the Pope’s request for his two-year Synod, questions posed to parishes include: How have you been journeying together in your parish in the last couple of years (joys, difficulties, wounds, insights, etc.)? Where in these experiences does the voice of the Holy Spirit resound? Where do we register a consensus? How is God speaking to us through voices we sometimes ignore? How are the laity listened to, especially women and young people? How well do we listen to those on the peripheries? How is the contribution of consecrated men and women integrated? What are some limitations in our ability to listen, especially to those who have different views than our own? What space is there for the voice of minorities, especially people who experience poverty, marginalization, or social exclusion? (Synod Facilitator’s Guide)

As of now, we are in the first phase of the Synodal process (October 2021 - April 1, 2022) at the Archdiocesan level. Heeding the call of Pope Francis, the Archdiocese invites the Parish Pastoral Council to send their parish leaders to the Synod facilitator training, so they can return and conduct “listening sessions” at their parishes, with the materials and format provided by the Archdiocese.

For more information and resources on the Synod: †

Sister Maria Goretti Thuy Nguyen, OP, is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.