Being judged and critiqued can be one of the most difficult experiences. Although we all need honest evaluation and feedback, often we crave that experience of unconditional love in which a friend or a spouse delights in who we are with spontaneity and joy. When people lack this kind of tender affirmation in their lives, it can be difficult to form the deep bonds of trust which are built on giving and receiving love. Furthermore, it can be difficult to accept the reality of a loving God.
One major obstacle to our evangelization is when our adherence to doctrine gets misinterpreted as judgment and condemnation. Instead of communicating the path to freedom that moral objectivity provides, our speaking out against sin comes across as one more voice of misunderstanding and domination. This does not mean that we should ever compromise the values of our Catholic tradition or that we should water down Catholic morality.
Instead, we need to realize that in order to evangelize our culture, we need to spend more time listening to people with dissenting opinions. In this way, we can discover the motivations and experiences that inform their positions as opposed to reducing disagreements to stereotypes and generalizations. But this is more than just a clever ploy to try and develop counter-arguments. Listening is transformative. It opens pathways into the lives of other people in ways that go beyond information and clever slogans. It communicates love and affirmation in ways that speak to the deepest desires of the human heart.
Listening contains within its receptivity the seeds of the Gospel. In this way, our listening both prepares the way for faith in Jesus Christ and communicates that faith in ways that penetrate the heart. This is perhaps the silent Gospel that is often not appreciated, a Gospel that is discovered in intimacy with Jesus Christ. In turn, this intimacy becomes the inspiration for others to renounce sin and the lies of the devil. Thus, our posture of receptivity paves the way for conversion to take hold in the lives of those around us.
Our listening must be patterned on a contemplative heart, a heart that ponders and listens to the Word of God with boundless enthusiasm. In the silence of meditation, we learn the delicate art of communication, and the rhythms of this exchange transform our interactions with the world. As we enter into the stillness of communion, the fire of divine love will permeate our lives. Then, this fire and the zeal that it provides will overflow and invigorate our relationships with others.
Today, consider taking time to listen. Time to listen to your family members, and time to listen to people with whom you disagree. Take time to listen to all with a generous and curious heart that longs to discover goodness, truth, and beauty in those around you.