Time to Speak —
Synodal listening

Richard “Tink” Guthrie

Research confirms that people of all ages instinctively build upon what they see and hear to achieve new learning. After all, isn’t firsthand experience a natural lifelong pathway to knowledge and understanding?

The answer, of course, is yes, provided that all relevant information is available and considered in proper context. Consider the following true story.

During World War II, Allied forces were losing many aircraft to enemy ground fire. British Air Ministry experts recognized that planes returning from missions were riddled with bullets throughout the wings and fuselage. They studied which of these large surfaces was most important to fit with armor, but the solution was elusive because aircraft can only have a limited amount of armor and remain airborne.

An outside mathematician named Abraham Wald was consulted, and he soon saw what military experts had overlooked. He concluded that the sections most damaged by bullets were precisely the areas that should not be reinforced with armor.

He understood that planes returning from their missions were able to sustain the damage and still make it home. It was the aircraft that suffered damage to the cockpit and tail section that did not return from missions, and thus those were the most vulnerable areas.

Because Wald saw what was not there, he prevented Air Ministry leaders from pursuing a flawed solution and in so doing, saved the lives of thousands of Allied flight crews.

In the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis makes it clear that we must listen to all the baptized, whether highly engaged in the Catholic faith, disengaged or somewhere in between. All have personal experiences to share, and the greater the diversity in their stories, the more we all benefit from the sharing and listening.

As the story above illustrates, if any group is absent in this synodal journey, we risk drawing incomplete conclusions based only on what is seen and heard during the listening consultations.

In the Archdioceses of Louisville, more than 75 Synod listening sessions are planned in parishes, schools, religious orders, lay associations and archdiocesan agencies. Several sessions have already occurred in the past month, and many more are scheduled between now and the end of May.

The objective of each session is for participants to share their personal experiences, hopes and concerns for the Catholic Church and to intently listen as others share the same.

I encourage you to consider Pope Francis’ invitation to participate in a Synod listening session and to share your personal experiences of church. Begin by contacting your parish to learn if it plans to host a local gathering.

If your parish is not an option, many others are hosting sessions open to anyone wishing to attend, including non-parishioners. For a listing of local sessions open to the public, visit www.archlou.org/synod-2022. Additional sessions will be posted as they are confirmed, but all consultations will be complete by May 31.

Each local session offers a unique opportunity to share, listen and learn from voices seldom gathered in one place.

The late educator and author Peter F. Drucker once wrote, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, may all the faithful be moved to share their voices in this synodal journey and may our church, with the wisdom and compassion of Christ, hear what is and isn’t being said.

Richard “Tink” Guthrie is vice chancellor and coordinator for the Synod on Synodality process in the Archdiocese of Louisville. He can be reached at tguthrie@archlou.org or 585-3291.

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Synodal listening”