By Fr Donald Chambers
“Listen, anyone who has ears” (Matthew 13:43)
The ear is an organ of the body responsible for capturing sound waves and channelling them to the brain for interpretation. These waves are generated from human and animal sounds, the natural elements of the environment, and the collision of objects.
However, humans, unlike animals, are capable of exercising a deeper listening. This ability allows us to search and acquire meaning from what we hear. If we are attuned to the sound waves of someone crying, for example, we have the ability to search for the meaning of that sound.
Is it that the person is crying because of sadness or joy? Thus, deeper meaning emerges from attentive listening, sensitivity, and questioning.
In my last article entitled ‘Domestic Church and shame’ (CN July 12), I argued that Luke’s narrative of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is a suitable and ideal teaching tool for the formation of the domestic Church.
In this article, I want to explore the role of attentive listening in the search for deeper meaning as a key component of the life in the domestic Church.
In the Parable of the Sower and Seed (Matt 13: 36–43), Jesus uses words in private to explore the deeper meaning of the parable to His disciples.
Jesus’ goal, I suggest, is to teach the disciples that there is a profounder meaning to His preaching. In addition, the Emmaus narrative demonstrates that the Risen Christ’s intention is to provide the disciples with a first-hand experience of listening, which will ultimately facilitate a deeper understanding. Pope Francis suggests that “the art of accompaniment” is necessary to achieve attentive listening.
This kind of accompaniment is noticeable on the part of the Risen Christ who journeys with the emotionally disturbed disciples with patience and compassion, leading them, not to remain imprisoned within and distracted by the disturbing circumstances of events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection.
Rather, this enables them to search for a deeper meaning behind the “recent events” in Jerusalem.
As with the Emmaus disciples, life in the domestic Church is filled with similar disturbing events that cause psychological and social ‘thistles’.
An effective response to these circumstances calls us to search for a deeper meaning. How do we listen?
Responding to my last article, a reader stated that “. . .as Church we have to be careful that we are not only listening to teach, to refute and dismiss. This type of listening exposes limitations, increases a sense of ‘stupidity’ and might even reinforce the shame factor.
However, my sense of Jesus’ empathetic listening brought the disciples out of shame to the point where they were not afraid to be seen, to have a deeper encounter—’Stay with us’. I believe when we feel adequate to stand in another’s gaze, we do not hesitate to reveal ourselves. The presence of others is a welcome gift” (Sr Julie Peters SSM).
How does the domestic Church listen to discern a deeper meaning from the myriad of circumstances occurring within the household?
First, it is necessary to be observant and look out for changes in patterns of behaviour, habits, attitude, feelings, and body language of each member of the family.
Second, whatever is observed needs to be interrogated. What’s happening to you? Why are you agitated? Remember, the Risen Christ posed this question to the disciples—“What are you talking about as you walk along?”.
Third, adult members in particular need to engage in a non-judgemental conversation with each other and with the members of the family to understand that which is being observed.
Fourth, sometimes what is observed and the information which surfaces are too complex or complicated, and adults may not have the psychological or emotional tools to address these matters.
In these circumstances, consultation with either a more mature person, a trusted person, or a professional such as a counsellor is useful.
Fifth, members of the domestic Church need to develop the practice of articulating feelings and concerns to God without reservation and learn to be quiet in order to listen to God’s response, which may come in unexpected ways.
If, according to Archbishop Jason Gordon, the parish and diocesan Church draw life and vitality from the health and strength of the domestic Church (CN June 21), then it is essential that the domestic Church be schooled in the art and spirituality of listening for a deeper meaning.
Acquiring this deeper meaning leads to in-depth awareness and equips them to make good judgement.
We need to heed the insight of the Greek philosopher, Socrates, who taught his students that, “An unaware life is a life not worth living”.
If we want the domestic Church to live an aware and fruitful life, then the diocesan Church and parish Church need to follow Jesus’ exhortation, “Listen, anyone who has ears” and form a listening domestic Church.
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.