The Power of Listening

September 15, 2022 | NEW HEARTS


There are many misconceptions about evangelization in the world. We often hear many bad stereotypes of what it means to evangelize, or what the “only way” to do it might be. Perhaps we often only think of the street preacher, or the parish retreat program that seems to bring in new converts. But the reality is Evangelization can and should take place as part of our ordinary lives.

Pope Paul VI reminds us in Evangelization in the Modern World that Evangelization is “ a complex process made up of varied elements”. There are no one size fits all solutions, or silver bullet programs. To become evangelizing communities we must begin living on a regular basis many of the habits of successful evangelizers.

While the proclamation of the Gospel message  is one of the habits and skills we should develop, another critical skill is listening. Particularly, an evangelical mode of listening - that doesn’t only hear others, but seeks to understand the movements of their hearts.

The Church both locally and globally has been talking about listening a lot lately - through the ongoing Synod discussions where we seek to better know and understand the world around us that we are sent to evangelize.

Called to Love

It may sound like common sense, but it’s worth mentioning specifically: You can’t love what you don’t knowWe’re called to love the entire world - to have a heart for the lost, a heart for the suffering and the poor. We're called to love everyone.  But if we don’t genuinely know the world - if we don’t understand the struggles of those outside of the faith, outside of the Church - struggles that we may not face ourselves - how can we ever be truly compassionate towards them?

Evangelization is often most effectively practiced in the context of relationships. St. Paul gives us this principle in 1 Thessalonians 2:8:

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

We’re called to share life with others and we’re called to share the Gospel with others. But one without the other falls short. Relationships don’t involve proselytization - where we simply shout a message at others or condemn them. Rather, we should imitate the words we hear in the Prayer of St. Francis - we must seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood. 

Listening imitates God

Pope Franics, in his message for the World Day of Communications tells us that listening is an attribute of God himself.

Listening corresponds to the humble style of God. It is the action that allows God to reveal himself as the One who, by speaking, creates man and woman in his image, and by listening recognizes them as his partners in dialogue. God loves humanity: that is why he addresses his word to them, and why he “inclines his ear” to listen to them.

We see this modeled in the ministry of Jesus too - who asked over 300 questions in the Gospels. On the road to Emmaus, he walks with the disciples in the wrong direction, asking them about "what things" they had recently experienced in Jerusalem. Eventually he goes on to teach them, but first he seeks to understand where they are on their journey and what is troubling them.

As we seek to become better evangelizers, let us continue to become compassionate to others. Let’s challenge one another to become better listeners so that we can better love and share God’s love with those around us everyday.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”​

-Henri Nouwen



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