We are losing the ability to listen, Pope Francis sounds the alarm
Pope Francis, the Holy Pontiff, has charged the world to listen with a free and open heart, without prejudice. According to him, listening is an indispensable first step in human communication, and a dimension of love. In his Message for the 56th World Day of Social Communications, scheduled to be celebrated on Sunday, May 29, the Holy Father while highlighting the importance of listening raised the alarm on the slump in active listening. He said, “We are losing the ability to listen to those in front of us, both in the normal course of everyday relationships and when debating the most important issues of civil life.” The Holy Father expressed concern that most people do not listen with the intent to understand but listen with the intent to reply.
“The lack of listening, which we experience so often in daily life, is unfortunately also evident in public life, where, instead of listening to each other, we often “talk past one another. “This is a symptom of the fact that, rather than seeking the true and the good, consensus is sought; rather than listening, one pays attention to the audience. Good communication, instead, 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. “It is sad when, even in the Church, ideological alignments are formed and listening disappears, leaving sterile opposition in its wake. “In reality, in many dialogues we do not communicate at all. We are simply waiting for the other person to finish speaking in order to impose our point of view.
“We all have ears, but many times even those with perfect hearing are unable to hear another person. In fact, there is an interior deafness worse than the physical one,” His Holiness wrote. Pope Francis counseled, “In true communication, however, the “I” and the “you” are both “moving out”, reaching out to each other.
Indeed, listening concerns the whole person, not just the sense of hearing. The true seat of listening is the heart. Though he was very young, King Solomon proved himself wise because he asked the Lord to grant him a “listening heart” (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). Saint Augustine used to encourage listening with the heart (corde audire), to receive words not outwardly through the ears, but spiritually in our hearts: “Do not have your heart in your ears, but your ears in your heart”. Saint Francis of Assisi exhorted his brothers to “incline the ear of the heart”. His message further read, “It is not enough simply to listen, but it is necessary 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).
It is only by paying attention to whom we listen, to what we listen, and to how we listen that we can grow in the art of communicating, the heart of which is not a theory or a technique, but the “openness of heart that makes closeness possible.” Pope Francis stressed that “Listening is therefore the first indispensable ingredient of dialogue and good communication” as he also insisted that “Communication does not take place if listening has not taken place, and there is no good journalism without the ability to listen.” He urged journalists, “In order to provide solid, balanced, and complete information, it is necessary to listen for a long time. To recount an event or describe an experience in news reporting, it is essential to know how to listen, to be ready to change one’s mind, to modify one’s initial assumptions.” Listening, Pope Francis added, is not only about hearing; instead, it “is essentially linked to the dialogical relationship between God and humanity.
‘Shema’ Israel – Hear, O Israel’ (Dt 6:4), the opening words of the first commandment of the Torah, is continually reiterated in the Bible”. God chose to speak in order to manifest himself to humanity, which responds by listening to him. According to the Bishop of Rome, “Fundamentally, listening is a dimension of love. This is why Jesus calls his disciples to evaluate the quality of their listening. ‘Take heed then how you hear’ (Lk 8:18)” With regard to the “exertion of listening”, the Pope cited “a great diplomat of the Holy See”, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, who used to speak of the “martyrdom of patience”, needed “to listen and be heard in negotiations with the most difficult parties, in order to obtain the greatest possible good in conditions of limited freedom.” He recommended, “But even in less difficult situations, 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.” Pope Francis stated that listening is very important in the life of the Church.
The Papal message read in part, “In the Church, too, there is a great need to listen to and to hear one another. It is the most precious and life-giving gift we can offer each other. “Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the word of God. “The Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that the first service we owe to others in communion consists in listening to them. Whoever does not know how to listen to his brother or sister will soon no longer be able to listen to God either. “The most important task in pastoral activity is the “apostolate of the ear” – to listen before speaking, as the Apostle James exhorts: “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak” (1:19). Freely giving some of our own time to listen to people is the first act of charity.” Comparing communion in the Church to a choir, the Pope said “unity does not require uniformity, monotony, but the plurality and variety of voices, polyphony.” He continued, “At the same time, each voice in the choir sings while listening to the other voices, and in relation to the harmony of the whole.” The Holy Father clarified, “With the awareness that we participate in a communion that precedes and includes us, we can rediscover a symphonic Church, in which each person is able to sing with his or her own voice, welcoming the voices of others as a gift to manifest the harmony of the whole that the Holy Spirit composes.”
The Bishop of Rome warned everyone to resist the temptation to eavesdropping and spying which he described as “a kind of hearing that is not really listening, but its opposite”. In his words, “There is a kind Listen of hearing that is not really listening, but it’s opposite: eavesdropping. In fact, eavesdropping and spying, exploiting others for our own interests, is an ever-present temptation that nowadays seems to have become more acute in the age of social networks. Rather, what specifically makes communication good and fully human is listening to the person in front of us, face to face, listening to the other person whom we approach with fair, confident, and honest openness.” In his concluding lines, Pope Francis reminded the faithful, “A synodal process has just been launched.” “Let us pray that it will be a great opportunity to listen to one another.” In fact, communion “is not the result of strategies and programmes, but is built in mutual listening between brothers and sisters”.