Building Community: Valuing Other People by Listening Love
Love is key to building community so as to Renew My [Christ’s] Church. Love is what attracts people to Christ, because Christ incarnates God’s love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God is ontological love and—as made in God image and likeness—love is part of our ontological makeup—love goes to the deepest root of our being, as Pope St. John Paul II reminds us:
“Only a person can love and only a person can be loved. This statement is primarily ontological in nature, and it gives rise to an ethical affirmation. Love is an ontological and ethical requirement of the person. The person must be loved, since love alone corresponds to what the person is. This explains the commandment of love… placed by Christ at the very center of the Gospel ‘ethos,’” (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women—Mulieris Dignitatem 29).
Key to love is learning to listen. When we truly listen to another we are saying to that he/she is important to us. When people get the impression that we are not listening to them—that we are not receptive… that we don’t love them just as they are—then they will turn away to someone or something that will. If children get the impression that mom and dad aren’t listening to them, then they turn to TV, Internet, music, and peers… They look for affirmation outside the family by people who often hold values contrary to their family.
Jesus was always listening. He listened to his apostles, even when they said foolish things or argued about who was the greatest (for example, John 14:1-14 and Matthew 18:1-4). Jesus listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, even when she had no time for him (see John 4:4-44). He listened to the Syrophoenician woman who had no right to speak to him (Mark 7:24-30) and in his listening openness insisted on letting little children come to him (Mark 10:13-16).
We need to listen and value the voice of millennials and all persons we wish to invite to the Church. One-on-one conversations are the most effective, but perhaps we can foster this by creating surveys and forums to invite their feedback and participation. Midtown and Metro have invited many millennials to their advisory board, giving them opportunities to make a real difference.
When we love, listen with love, and invite those outside to share in the mission of the Church we build community. This grows the Church. But our love needs to be unconditional, which means we need to listen even when the message seems negative. Although this is not easy—to hear messages that seem to say we have failed—if we love and listen then we can invite the other person to join us in finding a solution, as Jesus did with the rich lad (see Mark 10:17-21). This becomes a win-win proposition: our loving listening can draw out an invested response, or the person just goes away sad with no more complaints (Mark 10:22).
If we listen to their complaint and we ask them to help, then if they don’t they are responsible for the problem by their lack of generosity. Most millennials will appreciate the challenge, not pandering to them as kids. Not letting them take responsibility depreciates our love for and value of them.
So, let us develop a listening love, one the welcomes all into this community of love we seek to build.
Fr. John R. Waiss
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