By Deacon Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator
In this striking image of the meeting of Blind Bartimaeus with Jesus, the Bulgarian artist Julia Stankova provides a sense of expectation and empathy between the two. The able-sighted crowd are the distracted ones. Jesus is the one who listens, responds and then transforms.
Listening is one of the skills that takes a lifetime to cultivate and yet once acquired changes the nature of relationships, whether between a couple, in the family, or the wider church family. As we embark on the Synodal pathway, cultivating this gentle art of gracious listening and gracious talking will provide us with opportunity to recognise where the Holy Spirit is prompting us to go. In good marriage preparation couples learn how to listen and in so doing discover how it can avoid misunderstandings or division.
Before reflecting on the story of Blind Baritmeaus, I would like to share with you a few ways in which we can all learn to listen to one another from the ways in which couples are supported to grow in personal and spiritual growth.
- Marriage Care In the Speaker-Listener technique couples learn a way to speak safely when a subject is either tricky or can be misinterpreted. It is an expression of reflective listening, about being heard, of focusing on the feelings that are shared and in just being understood. Agreement comes much later as the fruits of the dialogue. Perhaps this could be a good method when sitting and discussing what it means to be a Synodal Church.
- Worldwide Marriage Encounter Couple intimacy and growth is fed by sharing their innermost selves using the communication technique, dialoguing. This is a safe way to communicate primarily by the written word. This allows a couple a safe way to express their deepest needs and feelings and in so doing being understood. How might our Synodal discussions profit from 10 minutes of writing and 10 of sharing?
- Teams of Our Lady In terms of the art of listening, I would draw from their model the monthly sit down of the couple with Christ. The aim of the sit down is to help the couple 'to make time each month for real dialogue in the presence of God' (Father Caffarel). It allows a personal exchange in which the couple can raise issues for discussion and really see and listen to each other. It also helps them to pray and to love one another.
Listening is an art that we need to take time to cultivate it, as the listening for the pilgrim will inform the talking. We find a wonderful example of this from Jesus in his encounter with blind Bartimaeus: a disciple who gets it right (Mk 10: 46-52). It is all about the apostolate of the ear, a gift that we all need to cultivate daily and one we hope to find in those to whom we open out our hearts as we travel along the Way. Listening before speaking, as we know, is often the challenge.
In a homily on the closing of the synod of bishops on 2018 Pope Francis chose this text, which also seems a favourite of his, to talk about how Jesus is the one in this encounter who does the listening. Bartimaeus is ignored by people who are little interested in what he has to say. Not Jesus. ‘But Jesus takes his time; he takes time to listen. This is the first step in helping the journey of faith: listening. It is the apostolate of the ear: listening before speaking.’ The crowd, and indeed the disciples, had their own agenda for Jesus and Bartimaeus wasn’t a part of it. It calls to mind the quip of a Jesuit who, in coming back from a retreat, said it should have been called ‘Be quiet Lord your servants are talking!’. Does this not happen to us sometimes when, instead of listening, we want to give answers to questions that have not been asked?
The Christian life asks us to be interested in the lives of others and to do this we need to start by listening. God never tires of our chatter in prayer, even if at times we are a bit repetitive because we are not listening to ourselves! Where do we need to ask for forgiveness for not listening: in the family, amongst friends, with the stranger, or within our church communities? In order to listen we need to show love, which is exactly what Jesus does when he meets Bartimaeus. I have that terrible tendency to finish someone’s sentence, which means that I am not listening with the heart, but imposing my own understanding of their needs. If I mirror what I actually hear, the other person then feels understood.
Pope Francis wrote of Jesus ‘He asks him (Bartimaeus), “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). What do you want… – Jesus is completely taken up with Bartimaeus; he does not try to sidestep him. …me to do – not simply to speak, but to do something. …for you – not according to my own preconceived ideas, but for you, in your particular situation. That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.'
I am aware of those times when I am quick to speak and slow to listen, when I provide trite or simple answers that avoid my need to become engaged with the issue. When we feel listened to both the listener and speaker are changed. On our Synodal journey, we are working with and are witnesses to Jesus in this world, which is not unlike the call of the vocation of marriage. When we encounter one another, we always do so in the name of Jesus and this will transform the nature of the encounter, help us to listen and enable us to grow as Church.
Image: Julia Stankova