international theological commission, "Synodality in the life and Mission of the church," nos. 110-114

4.3 Listening and dialogue for communal discernment


110. The synodal life of the Church comes about thanks to the implementation of genuine communication of faith, life and missionary commitment among all its members. It gives expression to the communio sanctorum which lives from prayer, is nourished by the Sacraments, flourishes in love of each other and of everyone, grows by sharing the joys and trials of the Bride of Christ. Communication needs to become explicit through the community listening to the Word of God in order to know "what the Spirit is saying to the Churches" (Apocalypse 2,29). "A synodal Church is a Church which listens…. The faithful People, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other; and all listening to the Holy Spirit".


111. Synodal dialogue depends on courage both in speaking and in listening. It is not about engaging in a debate where one speaker tries to get the better of the others or counters their positions with brusque arguments, but about expressing whatever seems to have been suggested by the Holy Spirit as useful for communal discernment, at the same time being open to accepting whatever has been suggested by the same Spirit in other people’s positions, "for the general good" (1 Corinthians 12,7).
The criterion according to which "unity prevails over conflict" is of particular value in conducting a dialogue, managing different opinions and experiences and learning "a style of constructing history, a vital field where conflicts, tensions and opposites can reach a pluriform unity which generates new life", making it possible to "build communion amid disagreement". Actually, dialogue offers the opportunity to acquire new perspectives and points of view in order to shed light on the solution of the matter in question.
It is a matter of adopting "a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists". For the Blessed Paul VI true dialogue is spiritual communication, which requires specific attitudes: love, respect, trust and prudence; "Dialogue thrives on friendship, and most especially on service". Because truth - as Benedict XVI emphasized - "is lógos which creates diá-logos and hence communication and communion".


112. An essential attitude in synodal dialogue is humility, which inclines each one to be obedient to God’s will and obedient to each other in Christ. The Apostle Paul, in the Letter to the Philippians, illustrates what it means and how it works in relation to the life of communion to be "of a single mind (φρόνησις), one in love (άγάπη), one in heart and one in mind" (2,2). He hones in on two temptations which undermine the life of the community: The spirits of jealousy (έριθεία) and vanity (κενοδοξία) (2,3a). By contrast, the attitude to have is humility (ταπεινοφρυσύνη): either by seeing others as more important than ourselves, or by putting the common good and interest first (2,3b-4). Here Paul recalls Him in whom, through faith, we became a community: "Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus" (2,5). The φρόνησις of the disciples must be that which we receive from the Father if we are living in Christ. The kenosis of Christ (2,7-10) is the radical form of His obedience to the Father and for the disciples it is the call to feel, think and discern together with humility the will of God in following the Master and Lord.


113. Exercising discernment is at the heart of synodal processes and events. That is the way it has always been in the synodal life of the Church. The ecclesiology of communion and the specific spirituality and praxis that follow on from it involve the mission of the entire People of God, so that it becomes "necessary today more than ever (…) to be formed in the principles and methods of a way of discernment that is not only personal but also communitarian". It is a matter of the Church, by means of the theological interpretation of the signs of the times under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, travelling the path that is to be followed in service of God’s plan brought to eschatological fulfilment in Christ, which also has to be fulfilled in every kairós throughout history. Communal discernment allows us to discover God’s call in a particular historical situation.


114. Communal discernment implies carefully and courageously listening to "the groans" of the Spirit (cf. Romans 8,26) which emerge through the explicit or sometimes silent cry that goes up from the People of God: "to listen to God, so that with Him we may hear the cry of His People; to listen to His People until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us". A disciple of Christ must be like a preacher, who "has to contemplate the Word, but he also has to contemplate his people". Discernment must be carried out in a space of prayer, meditation, reflection and study, which we need to hear the voice of the Spirit; by means of sincere, serene and objective dialogue with our brothers and sisters; by paying attention to the real experiences and challenges of every community and every situation; in the exchange of gifts and in the convergence of all energies in view of building up the Body of Christ and proclaiming the Gospel; in the melting-pot of feelings and thoughts that enable us to understand the Lord’s will; by searching to be set free by the Gospel from any obstacle that might weaken our openness to the Spirit.

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