From prophetic times to the present, the Holy Spirit has been well known for dispensing truth and inspiration in unexpected ways.
That’s why Bishop W. Shawn McKnight wants people throughout the diocese to participate in listening sessions that are being held in preparation for a synod of bishops — and to bring at least one person with them who might offer a different perspective.
“The whole reason for this Synod is not that we have an agenda or a goal other than we want to listen to as many people as possible,” Bishop McKnight stated.
Pope Francis has called for a formal gathering of the world’s Catholic bishops to be held in Vatican City in 2023.
It will be the culmination of a two-year, worldwide process of praying and listening in order to discern how best to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ at this time in history.
The focus will be on promoting communion, participation and mission among all members of the Church.
Dioceses throughout the world have begun the process of asking specific questions of people who are active in the Church, people who are tangentially connected, and people who feel alienated or marginalized.
Each diocese will submit a report based on this input that will help set the agenda for further discernment throughout this synod process.
The listening sessions in this diocese, which will be held at various locations in late January and early February, will be structured so as many people’s perspectives as possible can be heard. There will also be the opportunity for people to participate in online sessions.
Helen Osman, diocesan communication director and chair for this diocese’s commission for the diocesan phase of the Synod 2021-2023, emphasized that this phase is only the beginning of a two-year process.
“There’s going to be some back and forth on this,” she stated. “It’s going to go to the Vatican and then come back to us again.”
Bishop McKnight stated clearly this is not a process designed to change Church doctrine.
“We will not be encouraged to assert or advance our own pet issues or projects,” he said. “We are all called, instead, to listen together, with openness, to what the Holy Spirit is asking of us in how we are to be the Church in our present context.”
He pointed to two questions Pope Francis wants people to consider in this phase of the Synod:
The bishop has emphasized repeatedly that discernment means listening openly and prayerfully in order to determine the best way of following God’s will.
“I’m not asking you to think about what you want,” he said. “I’m asking you to discern through this process, ‘What is God asking of us, here and now?’”
Toward that end, the listening sessions will give people a place to speak openly about their experience of the Catholic Church, and really listen to each other.
“This is about the people of God listening to the Holy Spirit,” said Mrs. Osman. “At each of the listening sessions, after several people have spoken, we will stop and give ourselves a couple of minutes to reflect on what they said.”
All perspectives will be heard and taken into account when preparing the diocese’s report for the synod.
The people of the diocese are being encouraged to leap out of their comfort zone.
“Not only are we asking people who are reading this article to come and participate in these sessions, but we want them to invite at least one other person who might not otherwise consider themselves invited,” said Mrs. Osman.
That may include people who are not Catholic, or people who feel in some way separated from or ostracized by the Church.
“Listening to their experiences will be an important part of preparing our final report,” said Mrs. Osman.
People who want to take part in the process but cannot attend one of the sessions can fill out a form online or even upload a video of themselves speaking candidly.
“I have made the promise that I will listen to, I will read everything, that comes in,” said Mrs. Osman.
She noted that most Americans aren’t used to this kind of dialogue, which involves listening and not immediately responding.
“When someone speaks, we’re so accustomed to this idea that the way I honor your speaking is I respond immediately, with my perception of what you said; or what I think you meant to say; or if I think you’re wrong,’” she said.
“Instead, we are asking people to exercise discernment in that you spend some time thinking about what the other person said,” she stated. “And not just from your perspective but from the other person’s perspective and the whole Church’s perspective.”
She noted that people in other dioceses who have taken part in similar listening sessions for the Synod— especially those who feel marginalized or separated from their fellow Catholics — often welcome the invitation to share their experience
“The Holy Father is asking us to hear people’s pain and frustration and not immediately jump to the next stage,” said Mrs. Osman. “He wants us to sit with it and be present to it and let it sink in, mindful that the Holy Spirit is here with us.”
Bishop McKnight noted that diocese has already been engaged in deep and prayerful discernment through the process of developing pastoral plans for parishes and the diocese as a whole.
He referred to the diocesan pastoral plan as “our road map to strengthening the spirituality of stewardship — or participation — of individuals in the life of their parish; to strengthen co-responsibility for all and a mutual respect for the different roles the clergy and laity have — communion; so that our parishes may be better recognized as center of charity and mercy — the Church’s mission.”
He said the work and discernment that have already taken place will be helpful in creating the diocese’s report for the Synod.
Other members of the diocesan pre-synodal commission include: Deacon Enrique Castro, executive director of the diocesan Faith Formation Department; Father Jason T. Doke STL, moderator of the curia; LeAnn Korsmeyer, diocesan director of women’s ministry; Benjamin Roodhouse JD JCL, diocesan director of Canonical Services; and Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND, the bishop’s delegate for religious.
“I am tremendously grateful to each of them,” said Mrs. Osman. “They have been doing a really thoughtful job of reflecting on what we are being called to do.”