Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with representatives of bishops' conferences from around the world at the Vatican in this Oct. 9, 2021, file photo. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Synod needs to open up spiritual conversation

  • January 23, 2022

Catholics need a new way of talking to one another. Left vs. right, trads vs. everybody — Catholic Twitter is a cesspool.

The Synod on Synodality, on now through the fall of 2023, ought to be different — has to be different — according to Catholics inspired by St. Ignatius who are mapping that different path even as synod consultations ramp up across Canada and around the world.

“Ignatian spirituality has a lot to do with synodality,” said Sr. Laurence Loubiéres of the Xavieres Missionaries of Christ Jesus. “Ignatian spirituality is completely built on a path of synodality.”

In a series of webinars in French and English, Loubiéres and Jesuit Fr. Gilles Mongeau have been equipping Catholics already familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to lead local conversations and participate in the global synod.

“How does Ignatian spirituality prevent a kind of Twitterizing of the conversation? Well, the discipline of spiritual conversation,” said Mongeau.

By spiritual conversation, Mongeau doesn’t mean some deathly earnest, awkwardly intimate parade of deep insight.What it mostly means is active, attentive listening combined with limited, focused and structured talking.

“You have to have a certain discipline of listening in a certain way, and of speaking from experience that is authentic and not just in your head,” said Mongeau.

Loubiéres breaks down a spiritual conversation into three rounds of listening.

“You invite people to speak in turns — not to interrupt to respond to one another,” she said. “You share at the level of what you have prepared. So it requires preparing before, so that you come to the conversation with something.”

After a first round in which all participants address a specific and concrete question, the second round invites people to talk about what they’ve heard in the first round that was important, enlightening or moving. Then people are invited to assess the conversation as a whole and figure out where the ideas converge and hint at future actions or further conversations.

It isn’t necessarily a deliberative process that must produce specific results, said Mongeau.

“If all they’ve achieved is a progressive ability to just be together in a conversation — hey, that’s a success,” he said.

Loubiéres and Mongeau realize that for most Canadian Catholics at the moment, the synod has been boiled down to online surveys put forward by their dioceses. Where Pope Francis speaks about walking together, Canadian Catholics are sitting alone in front of their computers.

In part, COVID is to blame. Conversations that might have happened in church basements or even church sanctuaries just can’t happen right now. But the last two years have taught Loubiéres and Mongeau that Ignatian principles of spiritual conversation work very well online — sometimes even better than in person.

By reminding members of the Ignatian family — religious orders such as the Jesuits, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Loretto Sisters, the Xavierians and lay movements such as Christian Life Communities — that they have the tools to lead these conversations, Mongeau and Loubiéres hope they will “realize they have the tools to go out there and support the local churches as they try to do this,” said Mongeau.

If it happens in enough parishes, prayer groups, lay movements or just groups of friends, they believe it will add up to a rich and transformational experience.

“It can become a new way of operating in the Church, a new way of talking to one another,” said Loubiéres. “You also move away from polarization… You see the other person not as a representative of another conservative or liberal ideology. You see the other person as another parishioner and together we’re going to figure out how we’re going to best serve the community and be attentive to how God is talking to us.”

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