The synodal journey proclaimed by Pope Francis evokes considerable and different emotions throughout the world. While many are happy that someone cares about what they really think, others don’t hide their fears and feel it undermines the essence of the church. I believe such concerns are only understandable if one reads at least the background documents that have been released for the process.
The goal of this phase of the synodal process is in fact synodality itself. It is not a question of creating documents, even less of changing articles of faith, but of realizing that synodality is the very essence of the Church. One of the official documents poetically says that the synod “to inspire people to dream of the church we are called to be, to bring new hope, to increase confidence, to heal wounds, to build new and deeper relationships, to learn from each other, to build bridges, to enlighten the spirit, to warm hearts and strengthen our hands common mission.”
However, we have had the opportunity to hear many contributions on what a synod is in recent months. But it is clear that this will in fact be what we ourselves do as believers. No official document can cover all aspects. However, this method of progressive sharing and discernment is really quite unusual in the Catholic Church, so it is difficult to give clear recommendations on what to do. Perhaps in our synodal groups, but I believe that in our daily life, some advice that Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, gave to his confreres who were preparing for a type of synod a little more traditional: the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
Many may get the idea of Ignatius, the Jesuits, and even the church as such, as a community where they only command and obey. It is and it is not true. No legitimate authority in the Church, whether pope, bishop, priest, abbot, or even relative, should exercise authority, regardless of the opinion of those for whom they are responsible. Of course, he often has to make unpopular decisions, this is certainly especially true in raising children, but one who has some form of power must have such maturity that he is ready to listen to what others think and not to act like a dictator. The Holy Spirit works in the whole community of the Church, not just “from above”. This is, as surprising as it may seem to many, entirely within the Jesuit tradition of discernment. Of course, it is not only about Jesuit specificities, but about the experience of the whole Church and, in a certain way, of any more advanced human community. However, it is a fact that especially the first Jesuits, to whom Ignác belonged, as well as those to whom he addresses himself in the recommendations mentioned, showed considerable maturity in this regard. So we can try to learn something from their wisdom that will also benefit us.
Ignatius points out to his companions that communication in the meeting can be beneficial, but it can also be detrimental. Communicating with someone is only useful when we try to communicate honestly and with each other. On the other hand, as many are familiar with mutual communication, that is to say as a pointed exchange of views, which is more of a bilateral or multilateral monologue, in which one must use the weakness of the adversary to impose oneself , Ignatius makes an almost shocking recommendation:I will be slow, careful and kind when speaking“He writes to the Jesuits. It’s not about being weak, we shouldn’t be “under a slipper, so to speak”. According to Ignác, the meaning of a certain prudence is to understand and to know “the state of mind, feelings and willingness of those speaking to respond or be silent“. Yes: nothing should be said at all costs if there is nothing to add. More importantly, we simply don’t listen to others, but we’re listening him, we perceive him. And we try to understand it.
When it comes to problematic subjects, Jesuits must state the reasons for all possible opinions to the council. You really have to think about why someone with a different opinion says what they say. That doesn’t mean not having your own opinion. Rather, it’s about having an informed opinion and recognizing that someone else may be right in many ways. It rarely happens that everything is black or white, full of truth or a complete lie. Life is much more varied. Not to be confused with the Jesuits: if you browse some of the major works of a theologian and philosopher like Thomas Aquinas, you will see that with each question he gives a first glimpse of other perspectives and appreciates what they are good. It is the tradition of the Church in the best sense of the word.
Ignac further advises against being too adamant about an authoritative figure in things that have yet to be decided, especially if he is still alive. As St. Paul would say, we are Christ’s, not Apollo’s or Paul’s. It’s not even about that who what he says but about it what he says.
Another statement may seem trivial:If the things being talked about are so right that they can’t or shouldn’t be silenced, submit them there (to council) make your opinion as calm and humble as possible and always end up saying “unless there is a better opinion”. We are not infallible and this should be the basis of our humility.
It also helps not to seek your own comfort too much, but to try to accommodate the comfort and nature of the person I want to deal with. How many times have we experienced someone intimidating us by putting too much emphasis on their authority and wanting to act in places and times where it was to their advantage? Each of us has probably resorted to this at times.
Ignatius also told the Jesuits that during their stay at the council they should pray, teach catechism to children and help in hospitals. Personally, this part of his letter surprised me the most. Today, we insist on the need to concentrate, to think rationally, and we often forget that the Lord himself must be admitted into our discernment and found in the love of our neighbour. He is always present anyway, but the point is if we want to listen to him. And we know that one of the purposes of the synodal journey is to understand where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church at the beginning of the third millennium.
It is unlikely that most of us have time to help the elderly or the sick or to help teach children. However, each of us must accompany his participation in the synodal process with effective help to his neighbour, who will be within his means and, above all, with prayer. Personal and within the synodal group.
I hope these tips st. Ignatius will help us to be able to listen and truly perceive God and our neighbors, both during the synodal process and in our daily common decisions. I suggest that we sometimes take the time to recite part of a prayer by the famous Jesuit James Martin. We can help each other in this quest for maturity, towards which we are gradually progressing. It sounds, slightly modified, as follows:
“God, give me the wisdom to shut up
every time i think i’m obviously smarter
that everyone in the room,
that no one but me knows what he’s talking about,
or that I myself have all the answers.
give me wisdom
that I am not you.
 For the Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission. Vademecum k synodě a synodality, p. 8. It can be found at: https://cbk.blob.core.windows.net/cms/ContentItems/32503_32503/vademecum-synoda-cz-fin.pdf