Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) spoke about attending to the needs of our neighbor:
“On the question of relating to our fellowman – our neighbor’s spiritual need transcends every commandment. Everything else we do is a means to an end. But love is an end already, since God is love.”
Being Attentive to Others
St. Teresa Benedicta’s quote is something to ponder because it includes the two Greatest Commandments of God. These commandments are about loving God and loving our neighbor. Being a good listener to others is an excellent way to attend to another’s spiritual needs. St. Teresa makes it a point to say “everything else we do is a means to and end”. God is love. When we take the time to attend to the needs of those placed in our path, we are loving them. As simple as this sounds, it is profound. It is not always easy to exercise virtue in this way, but through the gift of the Holy Spirit, it can be accomplished.
The Holy Spirit is with us always, even though we may have moments when we don’t feel God’s presence. In our day to day lives, connecting with God can be a simple as stopping to think before speaking or acting. This is when we call on God and ask him to guide our path, our speech, and behaviors. Although our good behavior may seem to come straight from ourselves, it is truly God’s grace that keeps us on the virtuous path.
Another step toward listening to the Holy Spirit is in our dialogue with people. We know that since God is the “author of life” there isn’t a person who meets us that God is not aware of. God gives all of us opportunities to be attentive to people in each moment that occurs.
The Year of Mercy and Listening
Pope Francis instituted the “Year of Mercy” at the beginning of the current liturgical year at the end of 2015. It ends in December of this current year. We may ask ourselves, “how can we make the most of this graced time?” Maybe we have great plans to spread the faith. Great plans are good. God’s mercy can also act in the smaller ways of life in our daily interactions with others which in reality is very “big” and important to God. Listening to people in their need is showing God’s mercy to those he has placed before us. It can be hard to do at times and humbling. It takes humility to allow another person to talk for a long time and not respond in words until the opportunity arises. It can be difficult to hold back our opinions. In the silence we give to others, they are given the opportunity to speak and God’s generosity is given to them through our sacrifice. Much of the time people are looking for a “listening ear”, not for advice.
Good listening means tackling our pride. It takes unselfishness to stop what we’re doing to “be there” for someone who needs a friend. We will probably have to put our own”agendas” aside for a little while. Another good listening practice is repeating back the words of the person you’re speaking with to show them you understand correctly. This takes effort, but with the Holy Spirit, we can become good listeners. We can love others through the art of listening, caring about the things that matter to them. We can also gently guide them to open their eyes to God so that the answers they’re searching for can also come right from Him.
Mercy, Love, and Care
In the world of communication, we must be guided by God in how to act and what to do in each situation. Each individual and experience in life are varied. In our quest to show mercy to the world, we draw our hearts to God. God will act in the silence as we attempt to help another person through listening . This is God working through us. The end result will be that we become less selfish and more giving to others in our lives .
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, our newest Catholic saint, knew the art of giving mercy to the suffering and the lost through sacrifice. She quoted the following on “finding your own Calcutta” wherever you are in life:
“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, the lonely right there where you are – in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces, and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you will find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society – completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
Pope Francis and Mercy
Another great example of mercy and of “listening to others” is Pope Francis. Not only by his words does he display the mercy of God and of listening to the Holy Spirit, he also shows this mercy through gestures, his smile and open dialogue with all people. He has made himself available as Jesus did to listen to those who agreed with him and also those who did not. In this way, the Holy Father is a good example for us on becoming a person of open dialogue with others. Pope Francis made the following statement in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”:
“God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.”
Even though many are lost on the journey of faith, “God does not hide himself”. When our eyes and ears are open, we can be attentive enough to help a friend in need of counsel. It is a sacrificial gift from God. Through the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we can follow God’s promptings and learn to listen better. We may not have all the answers, but the love we give may be the answer that person needs. Be blessed in our Lord Jesus Christ and stay encouraged in this “Year of Mercy” and beyond.