Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of an amazing six-week opportunity for a spiritual “makeover,” for deepening our relationship with God, for experiencing anew God’s great mercy.
So many connections between our discernment journey and our Lenten journey are immediately obvious. Any time that we focus on renewing, revitalizing, and deepening our relationship with God, our ability to discern is also going to grow. This Lent, in addition to making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat, I have decided to focus my Lent around listening. Listening is a wonderful quality that is a prerequisite for genuine communication—with God first of all, but also with self and with others.
Pope Francis talks about the importance of listening in our relationships in this year’s Message for the 50th World Communications Day:
Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.
Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.
You might have noticed that Pope Francis talks about listening as a form of self-emptying love, similar in a way to Jesus’ kenosis in taking on our human nature and in dying on the cross. Listening can be a sort of martyrdom. In truly listening, we can imitate Jesus’ self-giving, sacrificial love for us, by putting ourselves and our agendas aside and becoming deeply receptive to whomever we are listening to. Deep listening enables us to become aware of the sacredness of the other. Even if we are just having an ordinary, everyday conversation, deep listening takes us beyond the surface to glimpse the depth of someone else’s humanity and thus, how beloved they are by God.
Lent is a time to die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ. Learning to listen better is a concrete way to die to self and to welcome the other in a genuine encounter of love and mercy. When we really hear one another, we are more likely to respond to them with compassion, gentleness, and mercy. As attentive listeners, we can discover God speaking to us—not just in prayer and in his Holy Word, or within ourselves in the depths of our own hearts—but especially in the words and unspoken longings and vulnerabilities of others with whom we relate.
Deep listening will enrich our discernment journey, eventually becoming more and more foundational to our prayer and our daily seeking the will of God.
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Join me in making the 7 Qualities of Mercy Online Mini-Retreat.