In his message for the 56th World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis says that the greatest need of human beings is ‘the desire to be heard’, and yet ‘we are losing the ability to listen’. In Australia, World Communications Day is celebrated on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (this year on 22 May). Last year’s theme was ‘Come and See’, an invitation to not remain spectators behind the screen, but to go out into the world and hear people’s stories. This year's theme is ‘Listening with the ear of the heart.’
Pope Francis warns us: ‘We are losing the ability to listen to those in front of us.’ Aside from the difficulties this presents for everyday life and society, it also speaks to something that lies at the very heart of our faith.
Referencing the Israelite Shema – the ‘Hear, O Israel’ (Deuteronomy 6:4) – the pontiff explained that listening is fundamental to the relationship between God and humanity. God speaks, revealing himself, and we listen, responding in faith. Likewise, the Scriptures tell us that God ‘inclines his ear’ to listen to us.
‘Human beings tend to flee the relationship,’ Pope Francis said, ‘to turn their back and “close their ears” so they do not have to listen.’
A sad result of this is aggression towards others, he said, like the crowd that murdered St Stephen (Acts 7:57). They ‘stopped their ears with their hands’ before rushing him, banishing him, and stoning him.
‘This is why Jesus calls his disciples to evaluate the quality of their listening,’ he went on. In Luke 8:18, Jesus says ‘take care how you hear.’ What this means, Francis explained, is ‘paying attention to whom we listen, to what we listen, and to how we listen . . .’
True listening is not a matter of hearing sounds. ‘There is an interior deafness worse than the physical one,’ he said, because ‘the true seat of listening is the heart.’ From King Solomon to St Augustine, we see an urgent exhortation to have ‘a listening heart’.
The first move we must make in learning how to do this is rediscovering ‘listening to oneself, to one’s truest needs, those inscribed in each person’s inmost being . . .
We can only start by listening to what makes us unique in creation.’
Human beings are profoundly unique in creation. We earnestly desire to live in relationship with one another and with God. ‘We are not made to live like atoms, but together.’
This lack of listening is a symptom of something we already suffer from:
Rather than seeking the true and the good, consensus is sought; rather than listening, one pays attention to the audience. Good communication, on the other hand, does not try to impress the public with a soundbite, with the aim of ridiculing the other person . . .’
What often happens is that people talk ‘past each other’ rather than to each other. We monologue instead of dialogue. When we refuse engagement with one another in the effort of listening and communication, we form ideological alignments.
This happens ‘even in the Church’, and when this happens ‘listening disappears, leaving sterile opposition in its wake.’
One of the virtues that listening requires is patience, Pope Francis says. But it also requires something else: ‘the ability to allow oneself to be surprised by the truth, even if only a fragment of truth.’
Much like the ancient maxim that says philosophy begin in wonder, Pope Francis said that ‘amazement enables knowledge . . .
I think of the infinite curiosity of the child who looks at the world around them with wide-open eyes. Listening with this frame of mind — the wonder of the child in the awareness of an adult — is always enriching because there will always be something, however small, that I can learn from the other person and allow to bear fruit in my own life.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has prepared a series of downloadable resources for parishes and organisations to use locally.
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