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What are Conversations in the Spirit? A fruitful method for a Synodal Church

Julian Paparella

Monday, October 16, 2023

Depiction of the Christian Holy Spirit as a dove, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica, c. 1660 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Since the beginning of this synodal process in 2021, “spiritual conversations” also known as “conversations in the Spirit” have emerged as the way of proceeding on the path of synodality.
So, what exactly are “spiritual conversations” or “conversations in the Spirit”?
Conversations in the Spirit are not merely a “generic exchange of ideas, but a dynamic in which the word [that is] spoken and heard generates familiarity, enabling the participants to draw closer to one another” (Instrumentum Laboris, 33). The fact that they are “in the Spirit” means that we want the true protagonist to be the Holy Spirit: He is the one who unites us in communion, sends us out in mission, and guides us together into the fullness of Christ. By having conversations in the Spirit, we seek to listen to the voice of God speaking to us through the Holy Spirit, as He gradually opens our hearts and minds to what He has to tell us. 
We can think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus who went along their way speaking with one another. Jesus came to join them, asking them what they were talking about. Later that night, once they realized that it was Jesus who was walking with them on the way, they realized that their hearts were burning as He spoke to them on the road. Conversations in the Spirit make our hearts burn and make us want to share the fire of the Holy Spirit with all our brothers and sisters! 
This method of “conversations in the Spirit” was proposed to all the Catholics in the world two years ago in the beginning phases of this Synod. Maybe you even took part in the listening sessions that were held in parishes and dioceses throughout the world. All across the globe in these two years, countless men and women have tasted the rich experience of speaking and sharing with one another in a spiritual way, guided by the Holy Spirit. 
“Conversations in the Spirit” is also the approach taken by the Synodal Assembly in Rome, gathering over 450 participants from all continents to listen to one another and hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to them over the course of an entire month spent together in prayer, reflection, and sharing. 
Time and time again, Pope Francis has reminded us that a Synod is not a parliament. It’s not about taking sides, being partisan, or dividing ourselves into political factions. Synods are privileged spaces of discernment, where the Holy Spirit is present and at work as we gather and listen to one another. In this sense, a Synod is like the Upper Room where Jesus brought His disciples together, and where He sent the Holy Spirit down upon them at Pentecost. The apostles were not politicians. They were people trying to follow Jesus, falling often due to their human frailty, but also guided and sustained by the abiding power of the Holy Spirit, whose strength is made perfect in our weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). 
In our own lives, we can invite the Holy Spirit to come and be the main character in our own conversations. Meetings in our parishes or workplace, discussions among spouses and within families, all of these can become places where we ask the Holy Spirit to come and join us, to lead us deeper in love and unity, to inspire us with wisdom, and help us rise above the weaknesses and wounds that threaten to divide us. Don’t be afraid to try it out for yourself! Invite the Holy Spirit into your conversations; ground your conversations in God. Having conversations in the Spirit opens up a space for us, a spiritual atmosphere to breathe in deeply, where true discernment can unfold so that we can move forward together. But conversations in the Spirit do not end once we have finished talking with one another. Rather, they often point out a specific, “often unexpected direction” for us to take (IL, 33). God never ceases to surprise us when we open the ears of our hearts to listen to Him! Conversing with one another in the Spirit bears fruit as we put into action what we have heard the Lord speaking to us in our very midst. 
Come Holy Spirit, come inhabit our conversations. Come be on our lips, in our minds, and in our hearts. Lead us into harmony with each other and open us to Your wisdom as we encounter You in our exchanges with one another. 

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