(Originally published in June 2014 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)
Learning to listen, speak with grace
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one” Col. 4:6.
We live in an age when modern communication technologies facilitate the sharing of our ideas. However, I have witnessed instances, as I am sure we all have, when some would prefer to ration freedom of speech for those whose beliefs are not in line with popular culture.
They would prefer, for example, we not talk about protecting the unborn, about countering a growing culture of death.
What is even more disconcerting are the words we hear sometimes from both sides of opposing views, words not designed to facilitate a civil discourse, but rather words laced with invectives.
Pope Francis wrote in his message this year for World Communications Day that while we are becoming more connected in the world, “divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family.”
“We need,” the Holy Father wrote, “to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.”
He said, “If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.”
I have friends and family of different faiths and beliefs. There are a number of issues in which we find ourselves on opposite sides. Sometimes we avoid the subjects that may fuel an unhealthy debate and remain silent.
My hope is that we will explore ways to listen and speak with grace when responding to one another.
“Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity,” Pope Francis said in his World Communications Day message. “The walls which divide us,” he said, “can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect.”
In an address to students and teachers from Japan who visited the Vatican in August, 2013, the Holy Father said, “Dialogue is what creates peace. It is impossible for peace to exist without dialogue.”
“All the wars, all the strife, all the unsolved problems over which we clash are due to a lack of dialogue,” he said.
While we must continue, without apology, to speak up for our beliefs, we need to consider the words we use and make sure they are not fueled by reaction. The tongue holds power. While we may speak the same language, sometimes our understanding of the words differ. Sometimes words divide us.
Bishop Flores in his homily at a Mass for the McAllen Pregnancy Center in 2013 said, “A Christian falls into error if we start dividing the world into friends and enemies.”
“In this fight (to protect the unborn) we don’t have enemies, we just have those who the Lord wants to touch.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, speaking at a communications conference in Rome this past April, said, “How we say something is just as important as what we say.”
As I consider my own work in the diocese as a communicator, I can attest to Cardinal Dolan’s comments that Church communicators are trying to bring a message to a world that “doesn’t always seem interested in what we have to say, misunderstands it or is downright hostile to it.”
“We must respond in charity and love,” he said.
Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), said, “We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.
“Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives.”
We live in a country where we should be able to share our differences of opinion without fear of crucifixion. Given the diversity in our communities we will not always agree with one another. Even in our own homes, differences will emerge. But we must talk to one another, build relationships through dialogue. As we do, we must not apologize for being Catholic and for our beliefs. We must practice our faith and take care of the words we use in response.
“Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” James 1:19.
Author: Brenda Nettles-Riojas
Brenda, in her own words: “I write in order to breathe,it’s as simple as that or maybe not. Working on master’s degree of Fine Arts in creative writing through the University of New Orleans. Completed three summer residencies – Madrid, Spain (2007), San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2008); Ezra Pound Center for Literature at Brunnenburg in Merano Italy (2009) Poetry has been published in a number of publications including di-verse-city (Austin International Poetry Anthology), Ribbons (Quarterly Journal Published by the Tanka Society of America), 2008 Texas Poetry Calendar, Interstice and Ezra — An Online Journal of Translation.”