August 2019 Four County Catholic
Who is Walking Who?
My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Not too long ago I observed a neighbor walking his puppy Sam, a newly adopted rescue. The leash was taut as the puppy charged forward which caused me to ask, “Who is walking who?” My neighbor and I both laughed as Sam plowed forward on his journey with his master in tow.
Do you ever find yourself in a similar situation with God? Trying to lead Him, rather than allowing Him to lead you?
We are all on individual spiritual journeys walking with God. Our need for prayer is deep-rooted. Sometimes, like Sam, we are eager to get moving, leading rather than following. These are times when life can be a challenge.
Prayer, talking with God, is a spiritual give-and-take, a conversation of love, a communication that involves listening as well as speaking. We know that we are in communication with God when we feel a pull toward Him, when we become attuned to His presence.
In his first general audience of 2019, Pope Francis said, “Praying is done from the heart, from inside. He does not need anything . . . He asks only that we keep open a channel of communication with Him.”
This open channel requires listening, equivalent to that of Elijah while standing in the opening of the cave on Mount Horeb. There he heard God’s voice not in the loud rushing of the wind but rather in a still, small voice. (1Kings 19:11)
“Listening is not a very common occurrence,” Pope Francis said. “It requires being quiet as well as being patient and attentive.”
Quieting the mind and escaping distractions can be difficult. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, in her autobiography, Story of a Soul, shared a simple technique, “I have many distractions, but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people, the thought of whom is diverting my attention. In this way, they reap the benefit of my distractions.” Astute advice from this “Little Flower” and Doctor of the Church.
This ability to listen is as important in our interactions with others as it is with God. In this world of supercharged opinions and opposing viewpoints which are magnified by the speed at which information can travel, we would be wise to heed the guidance of Pope Francis.
“Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right . . .” Pope Francis went on to say, “Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side.”
Listening is a true act of humility. It is a dying to self, putting another person’s interest ahead of our own. It requires silence and self-control. It isn’t easy. It takes practice. Daily practice – that in a short time will become a habit.
Jesus said, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
I encourage you to practice listening to God and then practice listening to others. Find a friend, a spouse, a child, who has a different viewpoint than you and just listen. It will be a struggle at first to not formulate a response, to not be distracted by our own need to be heard. In this way the habit will develop. Eventually what was once difficult will become easier –– with those around us and with God.
The root of peace is in our ability to experience silence. Silence is a choice. Choosing silence, allows us to hear God speak. I pray that as you journey forward with God, allowing Him to lead, that you find an abiding peace.
As I finish up this column, outside my office window is Sam on another one of his walks. His leash is not quite so tight. This reminds me of the words of St. Francis of Assisi –– “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” We all can take a lesson from the progress of our four-legged friend.
Good job Sam. Good job.
Sincerely Yours in Christ’s enduring love,
Bishop of Norwich