Spirit sets timetable for listeners

The Rule of St Benedict opens with an impassioned call for the reader to “Listen”. The purpose of listening, the Rule continues, is not just for the sake of hearing, but so that the one who listens might obey and so grow in faithfulness to the call of the Christian life. The Latin root of the word “obedience”, which in today’s thinking can be something we need to outgrow, has the additional meaning “to listen, harken to”.

I mention this because the Church of Maitland-Newcastle will gather at the end of November for the first session of a diocesan Synod. One of the primary tasks of the Synod, of the People of God who gather as part of the Synod, is first of all “to listen”. And the purpose of listening is so that we, the People of God, can be obedient to what we have heard.

The question, of course, is to what are we called to listen? In providing an answer, it is perhaps more appropriate to give some thought to what it is that we are not called to listen.

First, we are not called to listen to those with the loudest voices. Such people might think they have all the answers, but there is also wisdom to be found in those who are, by nature, quieter and more reticent to speak up. The task of true listening means that everyone needs to be heard, not just those more used to giving voice to their views.

Second, we are not called to listen to those “who have the numbers”. The most effective voice might well be the lone voice, the voice who speaks insistently and honestly in the face of the majority. True wisdom in a synodal process is not just about seeking a majority but seeking the truth.

Third, we are not called to listen only to those “who turn up”. The task of listening and seeking God’s wisdom requires us to listen to everyone, including those who will never attend a session of the diocesan Synod. Seeking to listen to the Holy Spirit means that we need to go out and ask rather than wait for people to turn up and speak when we believe they should. The Spirit of God does not work to our timetable; we work to the Spirit’s plan.

A Synod process such as we are about to embark on is first and foremost a call to listen to the voice of God. Through listening to the voice of God made manifest in the People of God gathered to listen prayerfully to the Holy Spirit and to each other, we are trusting that together we will discern God’s wisdom for the Church of Maitland-Newcastle as we seek to serve the mission entrusted to us.

And that is one reason why our diocesan Synod is not just one day but will extend over three years. It will take that long and be that involved because we are seeking to know God’s wisdom. The process of listening and listening so we can obey requires the investment of our time in a way that might seem alien to the immediacy so common to our contemporary society.

But prayerful listening — to the Spirit, to each other — requires our time and our willingness to concede that we might find God’s wisdom in people and places we never imagined. God’s wisdom will come from the whole of the Synod process, not just in terms of the individual contributions that are part of the Synod, but from the whole, listened to, discerned, and heard with an openness to the Spirit.

But first, we need to listen.

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Fr Andrew Doohan Image
Fr Andrew Doohan

Administrator Catholic parishes of Dungog and Gresford and Master of Ceremonies.

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