Listening: A gift we can give others in our journey through Advent
As every year comes to a close, we often look back at some of those who have passed away. This year includes the loss of Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammad Ali, John McLaughlin, Leonard Cohen and, in July, Elie Wiesel. Wiesel was a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and the author of "Night," an account about his holocaust, a book that almost never happened.
Wiesel was understandably reticent about his experiences at the Nazi camps. They were horrific, and by many accounts, he had no intention of sharing them. That is, until he landed an interview with François Mauriac, the French, Catholic novelist and philosopher. In 1954 Wiesel was still a young journalist and had wanted to use an interview with Mauriac in order to get an interview with the prime minister of France. But things didn’t go well for Wiesel, for in answer to all the questions he asked, Mauriac just kept saying, "Jesus."
Wiesel cracked. He yelled at the elderly Frenchman, saying that while Christians love to talk about the suffering Jesus, he knew of Jewish children who suffered so much more than Christ but "we don’t speak about them. Can you understand that, sir? We don’t speak about them." Wiesel got up and fled down the hallway.
Mauriac chased the young Jewish man, caught up to him at the elevator and led him back to his apartment where they both sat down. Mauriac wept. After a time he said to Wiesel, "You know, maybe you should talk about it." For the next few hours Wiesel opened up to Mauriac and told him the stories he swore he would never tell about life in Auschwitz. Eventually "Night" was written.
What does this story have to do with us? It reminds us of the power of listening. It was Mauriac’s willingness to listen with intent compassion to the suffering of Wiesel that helped begin to heal that young ambitious man. It was Mauriac’s willingness to suffer with Wiesel that made possible the telling of stories that should not be told. It was the fact that Mauriac could hear the pain of this stranger in his midst that made the difference in Wiesel’s life, and so, in ours.
As we enter into Advent, we begin to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ who would suffer, and who still suffers in the hearts and minds of those countless souls who are living their own private holocausts. And we recall in our liturgies that we have the benefit of that quiet beauty of Christmas thanks to a Father in heaven who listened and could hear the cry of his people. Our lights and our presents and our wreaths and our games and parties are all thanks to a God who listened to us in our need and who still listens.
Perhaps, during this Advent, in preparation for the coming of the Christ child, we could take the time to listen. Perhaps listen to our teenager, or the elderly, or our coworker, or the immigrant, or the homeless or those who voted for the "other" candidate.
Perhaps we could listen for their pain – not to give an answer, but to just listen and rejoice and suffer with them. Then perhaps we could take all the joy and grief we have encountered throughout our Advent and offer them up to the Father who gave us our Blessed Mother and that beautiful baby in the manger. In this way, we might become more like Mauriac, who sees that Jesus is the answer to every question and the source of all consolations.
Omar Gutierrez is manager of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.