"You're not listening to me!" We have all said those words. We feel hurt, disrespected, and perhaps even angry when others seem to ignore what we have to say. Now, in good Catholic fashion, let's do an examination of conscience. Are we listening well to others?
Pope Francis says, "We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God's love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives" (Evangelii Gaudium, 171).
Please don't miss the great wisdom in Pope Francis's words. He says that listening helps us find the right gesture and word to awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal. He knows that we will not always like, or agree with, what others say, but we must listen nonetheless. He knows it may be difficult or even painful. But, listening is essential for genuine spiritual encounter. As people speak, they reveal their souls. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra once said: "Words are like bodies, and meanings like souls." When we listen to the whole person, heart to heart, we cease becoming bystanders. We may even become joyous friends.
So, who is not being listened to? One answer is obvious. We are not listening to God nearly enough. That is the perennial Christian challenge for each of us. Another answer may not be as obvious. We do not always listen well to God's people, those living icons made in the image and likeness of God. Taking Pope Francis as our guide, note that people on the peripheries deserve special attention. Pope Francis wants us to get off our balconies, to smell like the sheep, and to go out to the people on the margins. While by no means an exhaustive list, here are some groups that we might do a better job listening to: unchurched, divorced, the poor, LGBTQ, prisoners, hispanics, refugees, abuse victims, the elderly, those with addictions, those with special needs and those living in rural communities.
Why listen? Pope Francis answers that clearly: "Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives" (EG 269).