Are We Really Listening?

Spirit Whisperings #3
An occasional personal reflection by Matt Rousso
April 2015

Are We Really Listening?

Some time ago while I was talking with my doctor about hearing aids, he told me there was nothing wrong with my hearing. But, he said, “there is a big difference between hearing and listening.” My wife Janet strongly agreed with him! I’ve been thinking about what my doctor told me in reference to what’s going on in the Church today – especially as I try to listen to what Pope Francis is saying.
Recently I asked a number of friends to share what they thought "most characterizes our Church (the Catholic Church) either favorably or un-favorably?” I was surprised that so many responded. As you might imagine, there were many different opinions offered. I looked for common threads:
  • Some favorable characteristics most often named were: our universality (common tradition) as a people, apparent and expressed in our Eucharist; our Sacramental life; our commitment to love, to social justice, and to concern for the poor and underprivileged; the fact that we are open to all, i.e. we are a tolerant Church; the new excitement and hope present among us because of Pope Francis, especially his servant-leadership style. 
  • At the same time, there were some shared opinions of unfavorable characteristics: There was a strong feeling that the legalism and manner of the hierarchy (eg: paternalistic, controlling, filled with fear, etc.) are, in the words of one respondent “stuck in the middle ages” and in the words of another “crippling us.” Many see the rule of only accepting unmarried men for priestly ordination as very debilitating to our community, as is the “blindness in recognizing the gifts of women.” The sex scandals and the failure to deal with them were also mentioned as one of the Church’s unfavorable characteristics.
Isn’t it interesting that Pope Francis’ first major document was an exhortation; an earlier document (Lumen Fidei) is an encyclical which was actually first drafted by Pope Benedict. An exhortation is defined as “a communication emphatically urging someone to do something.” I think if we listen to his emphatic urgings in Evangelii Gaudium/Joy of the Gospel we can hear him clearly express his vision of what the Church should look like – what should characterize us. We might better name them as “callings.” Here are just a few: 

1. He believes we should understand ourselves as missionary: Francis says of the Church “I dream of a “missionary option.” (EG#27) and later in the exhortation he says “In virtue of their baptism, all members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (EG#12) “We are asked to obey Jesus’ call to go forth from our comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” (EG#20) He tells all of us “don’t passively and calmly wait in our church buildings; we need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry.” (EG#15) 
2. As if to answer the question, “what are we to do as missionary?” Pope Francis reiterates the teachings of predecessor popes when he says: “Evangelization is the task of the Church.” (EG#111) And by evangelization he means proclaiming clearly and emphatically “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (EG#164)

3. We know Francis envisions the Church being closely aligned with the poor. His clarion call “I want a church that is poor and for the poor” (EG#198) has been heard around the world – but are we really listening? Are we listening as he says “the fundamental issue at this time in history is the inclusion of the poor in society.” (EG#187)? Is he overstating the case when he says “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor.” (EG#48)? He spells out the implications, quoting Pope John XXIII “we must ensure the general temporal welfare and prosperity for all people; this means education, access to health care, and above all employment.” (EG#192)

4. For Francis, the Church needs to be open. The last characteristic I’d like to highlight can be found in his recent declaration of the Year of Mercy. He declares unequivocally that “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life . . . the Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” (Bull of Indiction #10) I think if we really listen hard, we can hear his frustration with so many restrictions placed on people and the negative attitudes expressed about the modern day world. “We have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving . . . appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.” (EG#274) Pope Francis’ decision to establish Doors of Mercy is so reminiscent of Pope John XXIII’s call 50 years ago to “open the doors of the Church to let fresh air blow in.”

Matt Rousso is Maryknoll Mission Promoter from New Orleans