On September 26, 2022, Pope Francis received in audience a group of women religious from 34 countries, the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family, in Rome for their general chapter. The Pope spoke with them about the art of listening, based on the theme of their meetings.
“It is nice, this thing of sending the tongue on holiday and devoting oneself to listening,” he said, bringing laughter from the sisters, “that you work more on hearing than on speaking.”
“To listen, the first thing that is needed is silence, deep silence, inner silence, that which we find in prayer,” he added.
The Pope cited Paul VI in his address, and that saint-pope’s lament that “very often, our lifestyles are ‘full of noise.'”
And Francis made an astute observation, that “for many, raising the voice, physically or morally, presents itself as the solution to coax” others to do what they want.
But then, he suggested, often those who have followed someone shouting turn away to flock to another shouting even louder. And in the end, our humanity is, he said, “brutalized.”
From one shout to another. This brutalizes — brutalizes, be afraid of the word — this going from one cry to another, this brutalizes humanity, limiting our freedom to the point of making us slaves to those who have the ability to condition those signals — through the media, education, public or political opinion — thus imposing their agendas, in this way, with petulance, with complacency.
Detach from noise
Jesus asks for something else, the Pope said: “to go against this grain, to seek out silence, to detach ourselves from the world, from noise.”
In silence, we can then discern, the Jesuit Pope explained: “to identify the different sounds, to weigh them and to distinguish them. In such a way, that initial clamour begins to take shape; what seemed dissonant will be understood and situated, it will have a name, it will have a face. No note will be too high or too low, and no sound will be strident to our ears if we find the harmony that only our silence can give. And I say that only our silence can give, because harmony is found, not imposed.”
In this, we have to guard against the temptation to have “a beautiful melody” and then try to silence or reject what is “not in tune with it.”
I have my tune, I have my rhythm here, and all the rest is out. Temptation. But this is judging the other, placing oneself in God’s place, deciding who deserves and who does not deserve to be there. It is a great arrogance, that must be combatted with the humility of our prophetic silence. If I am capable of listening in this way, I will be able to hear all the voices clearly, all of them, understand their order, what they respond to, what they want to say, and why they say so in that way, at times in a way that is so disjointed and so unusual.
The Pope urged the sisters to be “prophets of listening” — to listen to the voice of God, who calls us to love others and to love his gift of creation.
This is the melody that is imposed in a natural way, because it is the proper essence of all things. In this melody, even pain, darkness, death, find their meaning, and they also find the brother in difficulty, those who are in need of forgiveness, in need of redemption, in need of a second chance; we can understand the reasoning of those who think differently from us, of those who contradict us, and even of our own limits.
In this silence, and silent listening to God, we go from cacophony to symphony, the Pope said, if we “truly convince ourselves that raising our voices is not the path, that the only path is Jesus.”
I will not hide from you that it is the path of the cross, of humility, of poverty, of service.