A Deeper Communion by Julie A. Ferraro

Listening Together:
Meditations on Synodality
By Timothy Radcliffe

Liturgical Press, 2024
$14.95   200 pp.

Prior to the first gathering of the Synod on Synodality—officially known as the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops—at the Vatican in October 2023, Dominican friar Timothy Radcliffe delivered a series of conferences during a three-day preparatory retreat held at the Fraterna Domus guesthouse north of Rome.

This book is a compilation of those conferences, widely reported in the media as deeply meaningful and on point, given the task at hand. Three meditations Radcliffe gave during the Synod form the second section of the book, followed by a post-Synod reflection that notes, as he writes in the introduction, “how far we have come, the challenges we face, and how to prepare for the next session of the synod in October 2024.”

Also included in this volume is an appendix based on a presentation Radcliffe gave in April 2022, prior to being asked to be part of the Synod. “Accountability and Co-Responsibility in the Government of the Church: The Example of the Dominicans” calls for the Catholic Church to “embody openness and mutual transparency” by moving beyond a “culture of control,” and to have faith in how the Holy Spirit speaks not just to those wearing clerical collars, but to all the People of God, in different ways.

This echoes Radcliffe’s reflection on authority, given October 3, 2023, when he stated, “There can be no fruitful conversation between us unless we recognise that each of us speaks with authority.” He continued, “We are all baptised into Christ: priest, prophet, and king.” (And, no, the spellings of recognize and baptized are not typographical errors—Radcliffe is a Dominican from Oxford, and uses the British spellings of those words in the text.)

As the former Master of the Order of Preachers—in other words, Superior General of the Dominicans—from 1992 to 2001, Radcliffe has traveled the globe, founded Dominican Volunteers International, and assisted in establishing a Franciscan-Dominican presence at the United Nations. He is the author of many books, and his texts have been translated into two dozen languages. His reflections in Listening Together confirm his down-to-earth approach to faith, blending quotes from Scripture with personal tales of meeting an orphan in Baghdad, born without arms or legs, who served by feeding other orphans by holding a spoon in her mouth.

As Radcliffe looks back on the Synod, he writes, “Discipleship is a journey into the mystery of God. The only question is whether we accept to travel together.” He views the 11 months between the two synodal gatherings as “a time of quiet pregnancy, of a new way of being Church, a deeper communion.” He aptly expresses the hopes of every Catholic around the world: those who were able to be part of the listening sessions in their parishes, dioceses, or countries, as well as those who were prevented from being heard by the apathy of their pastors or bishops.

The meditations offered during the Synod are profound yet relatable. While none of the chapters should be read in a rush, the meditations offer even more food for thought for those who are intent on creating a bit of synodality in their own community.

Those eagerly anticipating the coming synodal meetings in October—and even those who may have a “so what?” attitude about this years-long process—will benefit from reading Radcliffe’s wise insights. They will gain a deeper understanding of the Synod’s goals, as well as the very real need to come together to create a church for the 21st century. ♦

Julie A. Ferraro has been a journalist for over 30 years, covering diverse beats for secular newspapers as well as writing for many Catholic publications. A mother and grandmother, she currently lives in Idaho. Her column, “God ‘n Life,” appears regularly in Today’s American Catholic.

Image: Fr. Timothy Radcliffe speaks at the press briefing regarding the XVI General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 27, 2023. Original video footage from Holy See Press Office/Vatican News
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