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By fr. Fausto Gómez, OP

Some years ago, I was invited to reflect with the Australian Dominican Family on justice and peace in Dominican tradition and today. We closed our encounters with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. At the offertory, we presented our most relevant need at the time, handwritten on small blank paper, and placed it on the altar to be offered to the Lord - with the bread and wine for consecration. Before the end of the celebration, each one of the participants got back his paper. I still keep mine: “Listening.”

Among us, some talk too much and some others too little. Part of the rhythm of life! Martin Buber says that life is encountering others in love, “I-Thou” relationship. Pope Francis speaks of the need of learning “the art of encounter,” and work for “a culture of encounter.” Listening is the essential part of the dialogue, which is the path to improve our lives in communion.

LISTENING! WHAT IT MEANS TO LISTEN?– Education – the formal in the schools and the non-formal in daily life - is life’s path to become free and responsible human beings. Integral formal education through complete curricular offerings helps us much to learn “listening,” which is a significant method of learning. We are told by experts that in programmed education four points are really significant today: (1) Teach your students to communicate, to use well the means of communication; (2) Guide the students to work as members of a team; (3) Teach them to learn with a critical sense; (4) Motivate them towards creativity. The students – we are all students for life - have to learn continually to dialogue, to work with others, and therefore to communicate and to listen to others. 

Someone writes: To listen is something more than to stop talking (although this is a good starting point, for there are people who do not allow the other to speak). To listen to means to permit oneself to be surprised by what the other says and to accept it as worthy of attention, to pay attention to his or her problems, and to search together (Martin Gelabert Ballester).

TO WHOM DO WE LISTEN?- We listen to God, to others, to creation – to our heart.

God asks the people of Israel to listen to his voice(Jer 7:23). Often the people of God did not listen to him (cf. Jer 17: 23). We listen to God with the eyes of faith, what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “oculata fides” or a seeing faith (cf. STh, III, 55, 2 ad 1; in Encyclical Lumen Fidei, 2013, 30). We, believers, need to listen to God’s voice: “Unless we listen, all our words will be nothing but useless chatter” (Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, 2018, 150). To listen to God implies to obey him. Obedience (from “ob-audire,” or to hear through)means to obey. “Obedience to the Gospel is the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it” (GE, 173).

In turn, we ask God to listen to us:  “Lord, listen to my prayer, turn your ear to my appeal …” (Ps 17:1-8); “Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, listen to my cry of supplication” (Ps 86:6): “Let my prayer come to you, incline your ear to my cry” (Ps 88:2). God listens to the cry of the righteous (Ps 34:15). St. James advises us: “Everyone should be quick to listen but slow to speak… Nobody who fails to keep a tight rein on the tongue can claim to be religious” (Jm 1:19 and 26). Prayer is dialogue with God. St. Augustine writes: “Your prayer is like a conversationWhen you read [the Word of God], God is talking to you; when you pray, it is you who are talking to him.” 

God asks us to listen to Jesus: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him” (Mt 17:5). The Lord says: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts upon them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt 7:24). “My sheep listen to my voice” (John 10:27). Jesus knows his sheep and the sheep know him, and therefore listen to him and follow him. Fruitful listening is attentive listening, which is required to be able to learn the Jesus way, which is our Way. (It is interesting to note what an expert says: The crisis of education is the crisis of attention!) Jesus invites all to listen to his voice: “And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). 

We have to listen to the voice of others, too. Listening to others is a sign of respect of their equal dignity and rights, and a sign of humility and compassionate love. We have to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say with an open mind, and respecting diversity in unity (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 138-139).   Listening to God’s voice means listening to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, who keeps telling us: Love one another as I have loved you; I was hungry and you gave me food; What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to meJesus listens to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-31), and listens to us – always. He listens in particular to the needy and poor and continues listening to them through us.  

Dialogue is universal. We listen to all, “excepting only one who would either absolutely reject it or insincerely pretend to accept it” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam).In this context, I remember the words of Paul Ricoeur: “We are tolerant with the intolerant but not with the intolerable.”

The basis and the dynamism of dialogue (talking and listening) is love. Love is at the same time, as Paolo Freire, tells us, the basis of dialogue and dialogue itself. Dialogue is possible when we get out of our private world to approach the other. True love includes what Scott Peck calls “bracketing” or “the temporary giving up of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference, and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.” The best example of dialogue is mother and child.  

Pope Francis warns us not to listen to the devil: We must be careful not to dialogue with the devil as Eve did.  Jesus does not dialogue in the desert but rather responds with the Word of God. With the devil then we do not dialogue, because “he wins us, he is smarter than us.” 

Listening to creation - Listening implies listening to God, to others, and to God’s creation: contemplative listening to the silent voice of creation and the interdependence of all creatures (cf. Laudate Si’, 2015, 85-86). Listening to the cry of creation as well as the cry of the poor – both are deeply connected.

We listen to others within the social reality in which we all live, which entails knowing and listening to the signs of the times, to what is happening around us, in our family, our nation, in the world – and in the whole creation.

THE NEED OF SILENCECultivating the virtue of silence consists in a kind of balance between speech and silence(S. Pinckaers). By the way, as someone found out, the words “silent” and “listen” have the same letters in a different position.

We need silence, to empty our hearts of selfishness and be able to listen to God: “I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a little child in his mother’s arms, like a little child, so I keep myself” (Ps 131:2). We need silence to hear the wordless voice of our heart: “Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights” (Khalil Gibran). Indeed, silence is needed to listen to the Voice. In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini(2010), Pope Benedict XVI recommends that the People of God be educated on the value of silence. This is needed to speak of and listen to the word, to listen to the utterly Other, that is, God. I will keep silent and let God speak within (Meister Eckhart).  

We need silence to listen to others. Job tells his talkative friends: “If you would only keep silent that would be your wisdom” (Jb 13:5). Unfortunately, many of us do not listen to others but just wait for them to finish their talking and continue with ours: “People talking without speaking; people hearing without listening…”  We keep silent when our word will be hurtful to the other, or boastful, or unkind. 

Let me close with a well-known text of Blessed Paul VI: “Modern man listens more to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses.” (FGB)

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