Becoming better listeners

| Archbishop Bernard Hebda | January 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

In the context of our Pre-Synod Prayer and Listening events these past four months, I have frequently spoken about the “listening Church,” drawing often on observations that Pope Francis has made on that theme and on a 2018 document from the International Theological Commission, “Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church,” that was published after receiving a favorable review from Pope Francis. I have found the Holy Father’s insights to be particularly rich in this area, and I have collected pages of quotations from him as he has addressed the topic from a variety of angles. That being said, nothing has been as helpful for me in understanding the essence of the listening Church as was our “ad limina” visit with him on Jan. 13.

The Holy Father’s demeanor on that occasion illustrated the sense of welcome and respect that he encourages us to have as we sit down to listen to others. My brother bishops and I had been told that bishops were customarily allowed to bring with them to meet the Holy Father a seminarian or two from the diocese or archdiocese studying in Rome, as well as the priest who had accompanied them from the United States (usually a vicar general or secretary).

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

Archbishop Bernard Hebda

Bishop Cozzens and I were in a bind, however, in that the archdiocese has not only one priest in doctoral studies in Rome (Father Evan Koop) but also five seminarians studying at the North American College and two college seminarians studying at the Angelicum as part of St. John Vianney Seminary’s semester abroad. On top of that, five of our transitional deacons at the St. Paul Seminary were in Rome for a J-term course, along with two additional deacons from the Pro Ecclesia Sancta community whom I had ordained last May. How would we ever decide who to bring and who to exclude?

Beyond anything that I could have ever imagined, the Holy Father graciously took the time to meet all 15 of them as well as our vicar general, Father Charles Lachowitzer. I was grateful that Pope Francis had neither turned them away nor shamed me for being a flagrant rule-breaker, but rather pastorally assessed the situation and generously facilitated a powerful encounter with the Vicar of Christ that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Once the seminarians had departed to return to school, the 11 bishops of our province were invited to sit down for a heart-to-heart with the Pope. Putting us at ease and modeling for us the listening Church, he both encouraged us to speak our mind and spoke from the heart to us, in a way that was always responsive to the issues that we raised and that reflected that we were being both heard and understood.

For two hours, it sure seemed that we had the complete attention of the Successor of Peter, despite the many concerns and responsibilities that fall on his shoulders as not only Bishop of Rome (a diocese three times bigger than our archdiocese) but also Shepherd of the Church Universal, with 1.2 billion Catholic “sheep.” Without ever a glance at his watch or cell phone, there was a warmth that suggested that we were valued as brothers and co-workers in the vineyard.

In speaking to a class of recently ordained bishops last September, Pope Francis had challenged them — and all bishops — to become “apostles of listening.” After our encounter with him, it certainly seems that he not only practices what he preaches but sets the bar incredibly high.

While the substance of conversations with the pope is generally not to be shared, he explicitly indicated that we would be free to pass on his prayers and expressions of support for those who have been harmed in the Church. It was clear that he meets regularly with abuse survivors and recognizes that we have much to learn from them.

That was very apparent to me as well this past Thursday, Jan. 23, as I listened to the panel of survivors from our archdiocese who spoke at the Conference for Restorative Justice and Reconciliation that was co-sponsored by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and the archdiocese. I felt particularly blessed that the courageous men and women who shared their insights on that panel have each been valued collaborators in helping the archdiocese to create even safer environments and to improve our outreach to those who had been harmed.

The conference concluded with a brief experience of the “circle process” that is often associated with restorative justice, brilliantly guided by Professor Janine Geske, a retired justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I could not help but think that the process is intended to promote the same kind of deep listening that Pope Francis both challenges us to embrace and modeled for me at our “ad limina” visit.

Please join me in praying in this new year that we might all become better listeners. As we sing at each of our Prayer and Listening Events, “Come Holy Spirit, make our ears to hear. … “

Para convertirse en mejores oyentes

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Category: Only Jesus