Synod – Listening that Liberates

Ecumenical Vigil Prayer on Sept. 30, 2023. St. Peter's Square, Vatican City - Picture by Becky McIntyre

Sitting in St. Peter’s Square during the ecumenical prayer vigil before the Synod Assembly began, my mind buzzed with many things – plotting social media posts, worrying about a struggling friend, wondering if public transportation would be crowded after the service. I caught myself and took a breath, hoping to calm the hum of my brain and become more present. I didn’t want to miss the moment. As the heavenly sound of Taizé chant softened into a time of silent prayer, I felt my restless heart praying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Spaciousness arose in me, and almost immediately, I sensed God saying, “I’m listening, too.” I didn’t hear the words aloud, but they were clear as day. I exhaled in wonder, overcome by the palpable closeness of this Listening God. As thousands of people prayed, united in pregnant silence right there in St. Peter’s Square, God listened deeply to each one. I imagined God’s heart opening wide and welcoming each prayer tenderly, hanging on every word and embracing every unspoken longing in a posture of availability, compassion, and love. I listened to God listening, and my heart fell to its knees.

If we are made in the image of God, then we, too, are called to be deep listeners. This is the “secret sauce” of the synodal process, and it has the potential to revolutionize the way we live as Church. Many have noted that even the furniture in the Synod room signals monumental change: round tables instead of theater-style seating. At these tables, small groups of lay and ordained people from diverse nations can truly encounter one another through a methodology of “conversations in the Spirit.” One delegate shared that the approach seems to be stretching some of the bishops and helping to soften the sense of hierarchy. As a vocation minister and Sister, it thrills me to see a modeling of communal discernment at the highest level of our Church. I know that when we surrender, the Spirit can lead us to new depths and dreams beyond our imaginations. All of this fills me with great hope!

I even dare to hope that this remarkable, global discernment process will help our Church recognize the limits we’ve placed on women’s discernment. Walking with young adults pondering their vocational paths, talking with Sisters through the years, and journeying with fellow women seminary students, I’ve borne witness to earnest, sacred listening that sometimes yields powerful calls not recognized by our Church. I know in my bones that our Listening God is also the One who calls and who longs for those calls to be liberated and fulfilled.

Our stories matter in the heart of our Listening God, and thanks to the faith-filled community of Discerning Deacons, they are being shared in Rome. Let us pray for true, Spirit-led discernment to buzz and hum at those revolutionary round tables. If Synod participants sincerely commit to imitating our Listening God as members of a #ListeningChurch, who knows what could happen?

Sister Tracy Kemme, MDiv, is the vocation director for the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and a spiritual minister at Casa de Paz. She lives in the Visitation House formation community in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow her at @tracykemme and @cincyscvocations.

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“We raised so much awareness from our event, of both the ongoing Synod and of St. Phoebe and her ministry. Together, we learned of the power of the intercession of St. Phoebe, and how significant her feast day can be to carry the message of women’s roles in the Church.”
The Church of St. Francis Xavier
New York, NY
“The most meaningful parts of our celebration together included a standing ovation following the witness reflection, the power and strength of the reflection itself, and the procession at the start of mass. In the procession, young women carried in and presented symbols of St. Phoebe including an icon, the commission of St. Paul, a deacon’s stole and a pitcher of water to symbolize our shared baptism.”
St. Barnabas Parish
Chicago, IL
“Preaching on the Feast of St. Phoebe, and supporting and training other women to preach, was a joyful and invigorating experience. It is beautiful to see women claim the truth that they are called and gifted, and equally beautiful to see the People of God’s receptivity to women’s preaching, ministry, and leadership.”
Rhonda Miska
St. Phoebe Day Witness at St. Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul, MN; Founder and Co-convener of the Catholic Women's Preaching Circle; Catholic Women Preach Advisory Board Member

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