The Catholic Church is midway through the first phase of a synod—For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. If the title itself is more than you care to know, or if this is the first you hear of it, you’re probably not alone. For many Catholics, synods are for bishops and cardinals, maybe priests. They happen in Rome—think Vatican II.
Yes, think Vatican II, the very reason Pope Francis convoked For a Synodal Church—to engage all the faithful in conversation about how we can become the Church the Council imagined. A Church in the Modern World, one in which all the baptized are recognized as uniquely gifted people with something to contribute for the good of all.
These early months of the current synod are, at least in theory, a time to listen to people in local churches—not just those in the pews and at pastoral council meetings. Pope Francis wants us to explore how our journeying together allows us to proclaim the Gospel (or not). He asks us to consider where the Spirit is leading the Church on this “common road” (a translation of synodality). Our honest answers should lead the Church to a holy and difficult conversation.
If I were asked to weigh in, I might reflect briefly on the encounter in today’s reading from the Book of Samuel. Talk about ever ancient and ever new . . .
Hannah’s voice could not be heard. Granted, that’s her choice when she enters the temple, so intimate her prayer to God. Eli the priest, for his part, keeps his eye on Hannah, thinks he has her figured out. He’s so close yet so far, assumes the worst of that woman. Hannah is truly not fit for the temple, and it’s his duty to tell her so: “Sober up or ship out, sister.”
You couldn’t blame Hannah if she’d have left in silence, ashamed or outraged after Eli upbraided her. Thank God she stays and speaks her painful truth. And thank God that Eli listens to her and offers such a gentle and moving response: “Go in peace, and may God . . . grant what you have asked.”
Can you imagine? Hannah’s prayer became the priest’s prayer. And when her son was born, Hannah’s full-throated song became the song of all her people. Generations later, it became Mary’s song, the Magnificat. The Church’s song. A song that reminds us of all the great things God does for us. Among these great things: God lifts up the lowly and feeds the hungry. God scatters the proud and casts down the mighty.
Can you imagine? A listening Church. A prayerful Church. A servant Church. A humble Church.
May God grant what we have asked.