On July 01, the Archdiocese released its official synthesis of the many Synodal Listening Sessions that happened over the last year (English || Español). Before commenting on it, I want to thank again our five Synod Coordinators – Annie, Dan, Mary, Paula, and Rose. Our parish had an extremely robust participation in this process, and it was entirely due to their initiative and passion. I have heard from many parishioners about their deeply positive experience in the listening space provided by these five. I would also like to thank Tim Hunt at the Archdiocese who was responsible for summarizing around 130 parish reports.
Regarding the synthesis itself, none of it surprised me (either in our parish synthesis or the Archdiocesan one), and I am supremely thankful for that. Parish priests are profoundly ineffective if they do not know what the people in their parish and Archdiocese struggle with, believe, and desire – so to have actual data against which to check my assumptions and experiences is really consoling and helpful. The major categories of Community, Leadership, and Youth were a particularly effective and accurate way to summarize much of what I have heard from parishioners.
Second, just because it was not surprising does not mean it was not hard to read. Our faithful are deeply divided about a great many things, and it is hard to see that division laid bare in black and white. In addition, it is hard to read that the same faith which has brought me so much joy and peace has, for some, brought pain and disappointment. I did not expect to feel particularly well represented in the synthesis (given that only 37% of respondents were male and only 10% were in my age bracket), but it was a good reminder that no one is going to feel particularly well represented when 11,000 unique and profound stories have to be summarized. It was a good reminder that stories matter more than summaries, and we need to be dedicated to the stories.
That said, reading the synthesis was important for me and, I think, for all of us. It will not resolve any differences, and it may well inflame them, but one of the aims of Synodality is to have an open conversation about faith with each other, and these listening sessions were nothing if not open. Even if we disagree, for example, about what to do regarding LGBTQ issues (some advocating for a shift in Catholic teaching, others arguing that a shift is not possible and that catechesis is needed), the synthesis highlights well that this, and many other issues, are tensions that we cannot just sweep under the rug. If a tension exists in our Catholic community, it is healthier to charitably discuss it with each other than to pretend it does not exist. How our parish builds on this Synod process is an open question. The realm of doctrine and discipline is certainly Rome’s and not ours, so much of this discussion is not actionable for us. On our part, I think the most effective thing we can do is to intentionally try to grow closer to Jesus together. He is the source of our unity, and the more we study his Word and pray together, the more our unity in faith will grow. We will certainly continue our increasing emphasis on small faith sharing groups, as a way to provide the open and vulnerable listening spaces modeled so well by our Synod coordinators. And we have included a testimonials night to our Parish Mission. But, in the spirit of Synodality, if you have other ideas while reading the synthesis, please let me know.