Gretchen R. Crowe
Our Sunday Visitor
October 10, 2023 // Perspective

Synod and Family, the Communication Skills are the Same

Gretchen R. Crowe
Our Sunday Visitor

For almost two years, the Church has been actively engaged in a process of listening and discernment. Maybe you participated in synod conversations at your parish, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you chatted about topics with friends or colleagues, maybe you didn’t. Either way, this Synod of Bishops on synodality, which opened back in October of 2021, has entered its next phase: a gathering at the Vatican that uniquely brings together clergy and laity to continue, well, being synodal.

“The synod is about dialogue: among the baptized, among members of the Church, on the life of the Church, on dialogue with the world, on the problems that affect humanity today,” Pope Francis said in September.

In preparation for this dialogue, which began on Wednesday, October 4, and will continue until Sunday, October 29, an instrumentum laboris (IL), or working document, was released this past summer as a starting point for the conversation, as is customary before synod gatherings.

“The IL is not a document of the Holy See, but of the whole Church,” Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the General Secretariat of the Synod, said when the document was first released. “It is not a document written at a desk. It is a document in which all are co-authors, each for the part he or she is called to play in the Church, in docility to the Spirit. … You will not find in the text a theoretical systematic explanation of synodality but the fruit of a Church experience, of a journey in which we have all learned more by walking together and questioning ourselves on the meaning of this experience.”

Worksheets within the IL will serve as discussion prompts for synod delegates, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, on all manner of topics affecting the life of the Church today. Even with limited media access, it is sure to be an interesting few weeks.

What’s especially interesting to me as a communicator is that, at its core, this synod demands good communications skills of its participants. They must know when to speak and when not to speak. They must understand how to make a point or observation effectively and concisely. They must listen with empathy and respect. They must be polite, yet truthful. They must be in the moment completely, not planning one’s response in the midst of another’s intervention. These are the skills needed for fruitful conversations and communication – for synodality to fulfill its potential.

It’s very similar to how we ought to function in a family, isn’t it? Love demands willing the good of the other, not of one’s self – and that means we must be more interested in what the other person has to say than in that excellent point that we, ourselves, must get across.

“In the family, we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one another yet are so important to each other,” said Pope Francis in his message for the 49th World Communications Day in 2015, one of my favorites of his. “This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness. When we lessen distances by growing closer and accepting one another, we experience gratitude and joy.”

Of course, we are not always great at good communication – in our homes, in our society, in our Church. We are not always good at assuming the best of those who are speaking to us, or of being truly open to what another has to say. But this is how bridges are built, and this is how communion is achieved.

As synod delegates convene in Rome throughout October, they have a unique opportunity to model and exercise excellent communication. They have the opportunity to, as the Rule of St. Benedict dictates, “listen with the ear of the heart.”

Please join me in praying not only for the effective discernment of the will of God for the Church, but for truly excellent communication among all who represent her this month.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV News.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.