Listening rather than hearing

Chris McDonnell Wednesday June 17th 2015
June 16th, is Bloomsday, the date when Ireland remembers a day in Dublin in the life of Leopold Bloom as told by James Joyce in Ulysses. There, in the written word, we can listen to a narrative that recounts so much of what he said, where he went and whom he met. But it is not always easy reading, it demands something of the reader, our close attention.
The word ‘listen’ is an anagram of the word ‘silent’ and there are indeed connections. We hear a lot of noise in the course of a day, often a cacophony of sound is the backdrop to our waking hours, but hearing is not listening.
Listening demands that we pay attention, that we concentrate, that for a while we are silent. ‘Silence is the space between words’ was a phrase I often used with children in school when they were reading aloud. And it is important.
Among the clutter of noise on the web my attention was recently caught by a piece in “The Irish Catholic”. In it, a Catholic Bishop, Leo O’Reilly from the Kilmore diocese is quoted.
Bishop Leo O’Reilly has said he is “liaising” with other bishops with a view to setting up a commission to discuss the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood as well as appointing female deacons.
Bishop O’Reilly is making the proposal as a result of a 10-month listening process in his Kilmore diocese which led to a diocesan assembly and a new diocesan pastoral plan to tackle challenges facing the Church, including a declining number of priests.
Bishop O’Reilly told The Irish Catholic he plans to ask for the idea of a new commission to be put on the agenda for discussion at the next meeting of the hierarchy at Maynooth and “take it from there”.
It would seem that the results of listening can be informative and may sometimes, surprisingly, have results.
Here and there in the Church, it is beginning to happen, usually when those who are always talking pause awhile and actually begin to listen. Too often the supposed ‘listener’ is really preparing a response to what he or she thinks is being said. That is largely a waste of time. Two chunks of verbiage slide past each other without so much as a scratch.
The forthcoming Synod in October must listen to the Church and not come with already prepared noise that will only hinder the process.
”For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice…… to make an end is to make a beginning” wrote Eliot in Little Gidding, one of the Four Quartets
It is a favourite word of politicians- “We will listen to the people” –and then after election ignore what we say. This week, with the publication of the encyclical Laudato Sii, we may well see two worlds collide, with global warming and care of our planet no longer just a political-economic issue but also recognised as a subject of significant moral consideration.
Jesus concludes the Parable of the Sower in Mark’s Gospel with the words, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand”.
Time and again in Scripture, the people are admonished for their lack of listening. “Oh that my people would listen to my voice” cried the Psalmist (Ps 81).
We don’t do enough of it

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  1. jim mc hugh says:

    You do me a Singular Service!
    Just purchased The Complete Novels of James Joyce.
    Attentively Silent 7 Listening,

  2. Would it not be wonderful if the principle of subsidiarity was for real!. I imagine Bishop O’Reilly’s suggestion being swallowed up in the ‘lalising.
    and the’commission’ which could take years!.
    But God be praised that he haslistened and that he actually ‘hears’ the cry of the people in his diocese. He is a brave pastor – may his endeavours bear fruit- and emulated.

  3. Jim
    You are welcome!
    Best of luck with Finnegan’s Wake
    Remember the quote from that somewhat esoteric book
    “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’”
    We could do well to remember that when we seek to pass judgement on individuals in these difficult times.
    Meanwhile, enjoy Joyce!

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