Bishop Thomas Zinkula shared a memorable lesson from childhood about the importance of listening, during a homily he gave at Mass, which preceded the blessing of a Catholic radio tower in Davenport. He quoted a priest who told his young students, “Keep your big mouth shut and your little ears open!” There are times when we need to speak up, the bishop said in his homily May 20 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, but listening is a prerequisite.
The ability of the apostles to spread the joy of the Gospel required them to be good listeners as well as speakers, a message we hear throughout this Easter season in the Acts of the Apostles. A debate amongst the apostles and presbyters regarding to what degree Gentile converts must abide by Jewish ritual and liturgy rules led to an excellent example of listening, as the bishop pointed out. Listening, in turn, led to a fair and just decision of the Holy Spirit and of the apostles and presbyters not to place on the Gentiles “any burden beyond a few necessities.”
We ought to ask ourselves, how often do I “shut my mouth” to listen to someone else? When was the last time I refrained from firing off a post, tweet or message in reaction to something I read on social media or in print media?
Pope Francis chose “Listen with the ear of the heart” as the theme for the World Day of Social Communications, celebrated May 29 this year. The message speaks directly to communicators, but applies to each of us. “Listening corresponds to the humble style of God. It is the action that allows God to reveal himself as the One who, by speaking, creates man and woman in his image, and by listening recognizes them as his partners in dialogue. God loves humanity: that is why he addresses his word to them, and why he ‘inclines his ear’ to listen to them.”
The pope says, “We all have ears, but many times even those with perfect hearing are unable to hear another person.” He points out that “listening concerns the whole person, not just the sense of hearing. The true seat of listening is the heart.”
His World Day of Social Communications message contains practical advice to heal our fractured culture that has grown tone deaf:
• Listen to oneself, first. Understanding our own needs and wants leads us to longing to be in relationship with others and with God. “We are not made to live like atoms, but together.”
• Don’t talk past one another. “Good communication … does not try to impress the public with a soundbite, with the aim of ridiculing the other person, but pays attention to the reasons of the other person and tries to grasp the complexity of reality.”
• Set aside monologues. Listen to several voices, listen to each other, to exercise the art of discernment, which always appears as the ability to orient ourselves in a symphony of voices.
• Listen well. Jesus exhorted his disciples to evaluate the quality of their listening. It is not enough simply to listen, it is necessary for us to listen well. “Only those who receive the word with an ‘honest and good’ heart and keep it faithfully bear the fruit of life and salvation (cf. Lk 8:15).”
• Practice the “martyrdom of patience …. listening always requires the virtue of patience, together with the ability to allow oneself to be surprised by the truth, even if only a fragment of truth, in the person we are listening to. Only amazement enables knowledge.”
Bishop Zinkula reminded the congregation at Mass on May 20 of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “love one another as I love you.” The bishop encouraged the gathering to “Listen in love. Speak to others lovingly. Before we email, tweet, broadcast something, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Am I truly saying this out of love for my audience?’ And as I listen to what is put out there by someone, ‘Am I truly listening in love to what they have to say?’”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor