Last April 19, I accompanied a friend to have her nails done. The salon was quite posh with curtains that could be drawn to give each client privacy. While having my own “enhancement” in a neighboring cubicle, I could clearly hear the lady doing my friend’s nails relating how she was having difficulties with her “partner” and how she was at a loss, not knowing what was right nor having the courage to do what was right.
The manicurist related how she left her abusive husband after a severe beating and eloped with this lesbian partner, abandoning her four young children in the process. Usually, in such instances, I would be silent and simply offer a prayer. Yet when it was this girl’s turn to move to my cubicle, without words or gestures from me, she somehow knew I was willing to help. A few questions, a few affirmations, and a few gentle challenges, and soon the girl was in tears. It only took a listening heart to break down her barriers. It only took a moment of inspiration and we, my friend and I, decided to “journey” with her, as we are doing now.
She (the girl), my friend, and I were “Church” at that very moment, a part of the body of Christ, responding to a call to journey together. To listen is the primary basic first step asked of the bishops by Pope Francis in our ongoing “Synod on Synodality.”
On October 10, 2021, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, launched a two-year global consultation process to end in October 2023. The process titled “Synod on Synodality” and called by Cardinal Mario Grech, head of the Vatican office for Synods, as an “ecclesial adventure,” will consist of first, the listening phase from October 2021 – April 2022 at the Diocesan level, followed by episcopal conferences, meetings and discussions among the bishops of each continent, with a meeting between September 2022 and March 2023, and culminating in a conference of bishops in Rome on October 23, 2022.
The month-long final session is hoped to echo in the halls of the Vatican the messages from the hearts of all who participated in the discernment process after which the pope will likely promulgate a set of reflections on the process, called an apostolic exhortation.
Described by Pope Francis as “a journey of spiritual discernment” this “Synod on Synodality” is quite unique in the sense that unlike in past synods, which focused on particular subjects, issues, and concerns, the “Synod on Synodality” focuses on the process itself.
The theme of the upcoming 16th Synod of Bishops is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” It connotes walking together and listening to one another, but above all to the Holy Spirit. This synod starts with and involves all the faithful at local Churches across the world. It promises to listen to all, especially to laypeople.
In my recent visit to the Diocese of Legazpi, north of Manila, I heard that the various sectors among whom were the fisherfolk, vendors, businessmen, small entrepreneurs, youth, tricycle drivers and public utility drivers were being consulted. The endeavor was to get as many faithful as possible to participate. To listen to them, to discern with them and to bring these inspirations forward.
The contribution of everyone in this process of mutual listening to the Holy Spirit is considered precious.
The weekend after my visit to the salon, I attended a small community meeting with fellow secular Carmelites and I related my experience at the salon to my companions, expressing how I was surprised at the effect of the words I did not plan on. I still could not get over my wonder at how we can be brought to strange places without any warning, I hoped they too would journey with us in prayer.
My former formator said, “Sometimes you need not seek your destination. He leads you to your mission and you become ‘the prepared for the unprepared.’”
Willingly they now too journey with us with that lady in the salon.
When we assume personal responsibility to work “in the Church” “for the Church” guided by the Holy Spirit, and journey with one who needs a companion, no matter how small the contribution, we respond to the challenge of synodality. We are present at the synod.
We hope that our miniscule presence would be part of what Pope Paul VI said when he established the Synod of Bishops on September 14, 1965, “to make ever greater use of the … assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church” and to enjoy “the consolation of their presence, the help of their wisdom and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority.”
“May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the 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.” (Pope Francis. Launch of the Synod on Synodalities, October 2021.)
Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen — believed to be soldiers — abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.