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Perspective: Self-defense or exploration: What road to take?

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By Ricardo Márquez

SAN DIEGO — “Count to 10 before responding,” is a simple, common-sense way to avoid immediate reactions that could have grave consequences in a relationship. When we respond to some dispute without thinking, it’s like throwing fuel on the fire; it’s tough to put out and tougher to heal the wounds caused.

In these times of conflicting opinions over vaccines, climate change and immigration, among other issues, it’s worth taking stock of our personal reactions to people who don’t think or feel like we do. The decision of how we will react to them is in our hands, how we will consciously exercise our personal will. It’s not the “other” who provokes our rage; no one has that power unless we give it to him.

Pope Francis is deeply aware of the disagreements between communities, of the threat of war, of the polarization within our society and within our Church. In response, he’s inviting us to begin a process of encountering one another in a gathering called a “synod.” It’s an opportunity to listen to each other and to find common ground on  matters important to us. (In the Diocese of San Diego, the synod begins in March, with small-group sessions at parishes.)

The pope is inviting us to gather and to “speak from the heart” and “listen from the heart,” coming together as one community, as one People of God, to decide what path to take to avoid violence, social inequality, and indeed self-destruction. And, at the same time, he’s inviting us to decide what path to take to promote understanding, justice, and care for our common home, our planet.

We can benefit from this “synodal” experience if we do some personal preparation. This ensures that the interactions will flow better.

It’s recommended that we spend a few moments before these encounters in silence and prayer, aligning ourselves with the Holy Spirit. We need to recognize that we’re not coming together to impose our ideas and opinions, nor debate the views of others, rather to discover what’s better and more just for the community, society and our pilgrim Church in the middle of these divisive times.

That’s listening to the “voice of the Spirit,” which guides us and moves us toward what is important.

In this “synodal” process, we have to be prepared to listen to a wide variety of emotions. Creating a space for trust, confidentiality and respect will enable individuals to express their pain and resentment if they have felt excluded or hurt. Some will demand a return to the past, with its traditions that made them feel safe and protected; others will urge us to leave our comfort zones and take a risk by being open to change.

It will not be an easy dialogue; differences will emerge that divide us; similarly, gifts will emerge that unite us as we pursue the mission entrusted to us: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

In this dialogue, we can choose the road that makes us defensive about our opinions, or the road that explores what the other said and why he might have said it. The road to self-defense will deepen our differences, the road to exploration allows us to empathize and discover common ground over which we can build together.

What road to choose?

It’s a personal decision that we can consciously cultivate starting now, like sending oneself an internal message that prepares us for this process: “I didn’t come here with the intention of imposing my will or to convince you of anything, rather to explore and discover what’s best for the glory of God.” This is a way to respond consciously to the love of God we experience in our lives.

This is nothing new; it’s a new invitation to return to the fundamentals of Jesus’ message. When we get lost on a hike, the recommendation is to return to base camp. That’s the intention of all of this synodal process: to invite participants to return to being a community that prays, to listen to and be inspired by Jesus’ words and the celebration of the Eucharist, and to serve the community in His name to promote justice and fraternity.

Ricardo Márquez is associate director of the San Diego Diocese’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.
Register at your parish to participate in the synod; the web page sdcatholic.org/synod provides more information about it.

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