Of course, everyone knows how to listen! Or do they?

I recently read a perceptive article on the various ways to listen to youth at the Synod for Youth. Let me share with you what I heard as I read this article.

One apparent understanding of listening could be described as, “Let’s find out their questions, their needs, their concerns. Then we can provide them with answers to their questions. Maybe as we listen we find better ways to package what we already know.”

Another approach seemed to focus on hearing what young people think about the church in order to discover how the church must change. This approach seemed to go hand in hand with listening especially for young people who would say something about what the “listener” was already convinced is the major issue facing the church today.

The third approach manifested at the synod is radically different…yet it combines something from the first two approaches. This approach sees listening as part of a process of mutual discernment. Rather than filling the young with outside content, it first has them turn inward to listen to the Spirit within them. Its concern is to discover where the Spirit is alive in their lives, even in the lives of people who do not consider themselves believers. The job of these listeners is not to impose their ideas on the young; it is to help the young see the presence of the Spirit in their lives.

Emmaus Listening – Finding the presence of God

It seems to me that the third approach was embodied in Jesus on the road to Emmaus as he accompanied two discouraged disciples who had high ideals. But their ideals were challenged by what some today might call messy truths that did not fit their expectations.

In my imagination, I tried to picture them. They were two friends who had high hopes. They might have held widely differing views with one saying “I told you it was too good to be true. But you wouldn’t listen. He wasn’t the Messiah of the Scriptures!” Or the other railing about the religious and civic establishment.

Jesus listens patiently. When he senses the time is right he begins to revisit what they thought they knew. He helped them make connections with the Spirit of God already within them. They thought they knew the scriptures. But when he spoke of the scripture they could sense the burning in his heart. And it set their hearts and minds burning within them. They heard the scripture they had glossed over.

They now looked at what they knew through Jesus’ eyes. It now made sense at a deeper level than they had expected. Eager to see what other connections they could make they begged him to stay with them and have a meal. In this ordinary event of sharing food and drink their eyes were really opened. As he broke bread with them they would recognize him in an ordinary event in their lives. Their hearts began to burn within them. With their hearts burning they ran to tell their brothers and sisters. They became people on a mission to share the good news of the meaning they had discovered in their own lives.

Pope Francis on walking with people today

Recently Pope Francis reminded us in the previous synod:

“A synod is literally a walking or journeying together (syn) along the way (hodos). It would be an understatement to describe that common journey to-date as dramatic, even turbulent. Some have seen it as scandalous, others as liberating. One hopes that the ongoing journey will be animated by ever-greater freedom, respect and transparency.”

To the Brazilian Bishops, he said we

“need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a church that realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.”

True accompaniment recognizes that the journey’s purpose is to reach the destination, that gradualism has a goal: the fulfillment of the Law, the perfection of charity. The sign of faith, as Joseph Ratzinger said in a homily on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s death, is “not a fist, but an open hand.” Christ, whether at Emmaus or in our lives right now, takes us by the hand in friendship and leads us patiently and surely. In him, there can be no opposition between accompaniment and orthodoxy, between truth and mercy. He loves us enough to walk alongside us in our darkness and discouragement, and he loves us enough to lead us onward into the truth which alone sets us free.

Now wouldn’t that kind of listening and speaking from our hearts rather than our heads be a systemic change! The Synod has just begun… not ended! It is a process.

Listening from an Emmaus perspective

  • Am I willing to recognize the limitations of my personal understanding of God’s plan?
  • Can I recognize that others see aspects of God’s plan I missed?
  • Enriched in breaking the bread of our lives together, will I become a missionary of the Good News with others?

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