Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ Prayer Adopts Listening and Dialogue as a Style of Life

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

October 04, 2023

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects in this Just Gospel Post about Pope Francis’ October Prayer Intention “that the Church may adopt listening and dialogue as a style of life at every level, allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit towards the world’s peripheries.”

Did you know that October 1-7 is Junk Mail Awareness Week? Junk mail, Spam and all of those “nuisance” types of communication usually prove worthy of being ignored rather than being attended to. Pope Francis’ intention for this month leads in a different direction. He calls for attentiveness in the form of listening and dialogue. The intention reads: Let us pray for the Church, that she may adopt listening and dialogue as a style of life at every level, allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit towards the world’s peripheries.

Marilyn Nelson, in her poem Generous Listening, writes:
A conversation can be a contest,
or a game of catch with invisible balloons…
Out of gray matter a star spark of thought
leaps between synapses into the air,
and pours through gray matter, into my heart:
how can I not listen generously?

The dictionary defines listening very simply. Listening is to give one’s attention to a sound. We see this definition in action when the Prophet Elijah recognizes God in the sound of the gentle breeze as well as when those gathered in the upper room hear the noise like a strong driving wind and are then filled with the Spirit. We also note that in both of these accounts of Scriptural sounds, they are attended to and then acted upon. The poet Alice Duer Miller writes, You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back
fuller and richer.

It seems that Pope Francis desires us to be the listener who acts on what is heard and who echoes back the sound in tones that are fuller and richer for our having absorbed the message. In a blog on listening, William Clemens states, to listen is to see the beauty and worth in another and embrace this by joining another in his or her own life’s journey, wherever they may be, in whatever they are going through. St. John Vianney teaches us that listening can save lives. Regardless of how small a conversation may be, to listen is to embrace another, to shine forth that spirit of community that builds the foundation for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Each and every person has something to say and is worth the time.

As the pope announced the current synod on synodality he reminded us that it is all about listening—such that, for many, the question becomes, “But to whom? Someone has to speak!” The Holy Father answers this question when he says that the Holy Spirit is the protagonist of
the synod. He goes on to say that, faith is born from listening, and is strengthened by proclamation. Thus, we hear that prayerful listening to the Spirit is a first requirement. Then we are to act on what we’ve heard from the Holy Spirit as well as from other listeners. Such action is as important as the listening.

In an article entitled The Joy of Listening and Walking Together, Geevarghese Kaithavana reminds us, Synodality is not a new concept. In fact, the call for listening and dialogue is not the innovation of Pope Francis. It is not a new way of doing things in the Church. Listening was the
practice of the Early Church. Whenever there was a problem, the leaders convoked the entire community and they listened to the all of the faithful.). You may be interested in taking a deeper look at this entire article by checking out this link. Geevarghese Kaithavana The Joy of Listening and Walking Together | Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (catholicethics.com)

In another homily, Pope Francis asks, In the Church, are we good at listening? How good is the hearing of our heart? Let us not soundproof our hearts. This notion of sensitive listening particularly applies to any intersections we experience with those on the peripheries. Though we may  not have occasion to listen directly to the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the prisoner, or the addict we can keep ourselves current and knowledgeable about the needs of such groups so that our hearts will not become soundproofed in regard to their plight.

Jessica Powers, in her poem To Live With the Spirit, captures in beautiful language a sense of what Pope Francis desires in the Church community. In part, the poem says,
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener.
It is to keep the vigil of mystery,
earthless and still.
One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit,
strange as the wind’s will.
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows
turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love.

Let us make such soulful listening a way of life in this time of the Synod.

Photo: Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons; TeeBee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons;Jebulon, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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