DEACON OMAR GUTIERREZ: We should guard against unwillingness to listen
November 19, 2020
In the last several weeks, I have had wonderful conversations with friends and acquaintances about our nation. The conversations have been with people of disparate backgrounds and political leanings, but we all seem to agree that there is something deeply wrong in our nation when families are torn asunder because of their votes. One of the many problems causing this breakdown is the unwillingness to listen.
What does that mean? Here is a true story, though I have changed the names. About two years ago, Mike was having dinner with an old friend, Tom, who had set up the dinner because of his concern that Mike was becoming conservative. The two sat down, broke bread and went back and forth about what caused Mike to reject his old views. Mike tried to explain how he was staying true to his principles, but they were leading him to the right. Tom, however, would cut him off and call into question his facts. When that failed, he would change the subject.
Finally, after a great deal of frustrating back and forth, Mike asked, “Do you believe that I sincerely hold my opinions, that I really believe the things that I am saying?” Tom replied, “No.” At that point Mike left cash on the table and walked out of the restaurant. He said later that there was no point in continuing what was not an honest conversation.
What I find so telling about this story, and what Mike meant, is that Tom clearly never cared about his friend. Rather, the purpose of this dinner was to win, and winning meant convincing Mike not just that he was wrong, but that he had been brainwashed. Tom at no point actually considered that Mike’s positions might be founded on some truth. That was not possible. Therefore, fundamentally, Tom believed Mike to be inferior, which is why he was going to sweep in and educate his clearly misguided old friend. This is, sadly, all too common, and it is remarkably destructive.
This is a phenomenon on both sides, by the way, though it manifests itself differently in my experience. So, how ought we as Catholics guard against it?
First, we all ought to practice listening. For instance, when someone tells us what they believe, perhaps we might ask them a clarifying question or two about what or why they believe before we respond with how or why we think they are wrong. Doing so will give us important information and will make our friend know that we truly care about what he or she believes.
Second, St. Paul writes, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4). Be aware, then, that we have a tendency to “accumulate” for ourselves voices that agree with us. Rather, as Catholics, we should stick close to apostolic teaching and not fringe voices or self-appointed teachers.
Third, we ought to ask ourselves who are the holiest people around us. Are they the loudest and angriest voices? Are they the sort who leave snarky remarks in comment boxes or on social media in the early morning hours? Or do they exhibit peace? Does their behavior make us want to draw closer to Christ Jesus? Saints make saints, it is said. Are we pursuing sanctity, or public approval?
Finally, we should pray more. And as we pray, we should ask specifically for the grace of gratuitous charity for our neighbor and mercy for us.
Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.