The Art of ListeningRead Now
Every interaction, every conversation, each and every dive into our relational natures as human beings begins with the willing openness to listen. Listening begins with a simple opening, a knock on the door of our self-focus that lets us know that someone else is here, present before us with a unique existence, one that should be experienced and embraced. Listening happens in almost everything we do in our daily lives, whether we are speaking with others, learning instructions, praying, or even sitting alone in the quiet of an empty house. There is always something to hear, always something to experience. To listen is to see the beauty and worth in another and embrace this by joining another in his or her own life’s journey, wherever they may be, in whatever they are going through.
I often say that listening is an art. We are all great artisans of speech, one way or another. Whether outspoken and personable, or soft-spoken and shy, we all have an inner preacher within us that constantly narrates our thoughts, opinions, and daily lives. To speak is in our nature, and to listen is also a part of who we are. Speaking, however, often seems easier than listening. Children, constantly having to be reminded to give each person his turn to speak, exemplify this. Why is it hard to listen? I think the life of Saint John Marie Vianney, whose feast we celebrate today, can show us some answers. Looking into his life, one can see just how important and powerful the art of listening is for us all.
Listening is something that can be appreciated in others and within ourselves in an almost artistic way, such as when we read the great sonnets of Shakespeare, or admire Monet’s Water Lilies. Listening has its own beauty within it, as all things do. It is in itself a beautiful thing. Saint John Vianney, I believe, knew the power that listening wields. As a priest in the farmlands of France, traveling around to spiritually devastated towns, he would plop himself down in a confessional and just sit there, waiting. In time, townspeople started coming and speaking to him. He heard confessions for long lengths of time each day, listening to the needs of the people of France. Slowly and surely, each town he visited began beaming with a light and a warmth that didn't exist before. Besides hearing the townspeople’s confessions, John Vianney validated and embraced their lives in his own, welcoming all and listening with an open heart. He embraced fully the priesthood as a way to listen to others, to join into the community of all, to embrace and see the worth in others and to let others know that Christ sees their worth as well. He did this through devout prayer to God and a humble heart to listen to God’s plan for him. It is by this profound listening that John Vianney became the well-known Patron of Priests that he is today.
John Vianney teaches us that listening can save lives. Regardless of how small a conversation may be, to listen is to embrace another, to shine forth that spirit of community that builds the foundation for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Each and every person has something to say and is worth the time. Vianney also teaches us to listen to God, to listen to the silence we so often get in response to our prayers that the answer is there, in our life. God listens to us always, in everything we do; all we need to do is learn to embrace ourselves the way God embraces us when He listens to our lives.
As we continue on our journeys, I pray that the art of listening may inspire and shine beautifully in our interactions with others each day and in our prayers to the Almighty Father.
William Clemens is a Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Forever and beyond will beauty last upon the fabric of this path we are all on. Life is a journey and a time of change, but the love and beauty that emits from the experience of life will last, will remain, and will persevere. Everything that goes through this life journey we lead as creations of a One, True, Loving Lord adds to the over-abundant beauty that is this light for our feet. From the spectacular of fireworks to the humblest of daily chores, everything holds within it an essence of glory, a glory given by the graces of the awakenings of the Spirit in this life. Such essence of glory protrudes into the days and nights, into our sensual stimulators by one path and one path alone, beauty. Beauty in the form of simple things, grand things, petty things, and profound things. Each passing moment has beauty in it to be recognized. All things bright and beautiful stem directly from our Divine Creator. All beautiful things reflect the love and care of the beautiful Father, abounding in glory and radiant light for all to experience.
Beauty can be seen in everything and everyone, if only we have the courage and wisdom to look hard enough. Such avenues of beauty are the various art forms of life, for example, works of art, music, literature, friendships, emotion, or moments indescribable by words. Art forms are anything that leave an impression on us, for life itself is the grandest of art forms that pours forth in everything it is. It is hard for us all to see the beauty in suffering or in times of darkness, but that doesn't mean it isn’t there, in the wrinkles and the silver linings that radiate beauty in a different light than what we are used to. For life, beauty is there.
The Saints are good examples of the beautiful life, each one leading vastly different lives. Life is beautiful in each human experience, including the suffering and dark stuff. The Saints are good demonstrations of the beautiful human experience, including within it all sides of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast we celebrate today, is quite extraordinary and is a good example of the kind of beauty I am discussing here. Her life, besides her ardent Catholic faith, was normal for a girl in her Native American village. Her life was beautiful in her great faith, in her dealings with her family and those who did and could not understand her reasoning for believing that Christ Jesus was her Savior, and finally in her simple yet profound suffering and eventual martyrdom. She is the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Contemplate the Lily for a moment: the petals, the pollen, the beauty. So simple yet so complex, yet beautiful in its complexity. This is Saint Kateri. She is the lily, the beauty of a life lead in the faith of Christ.
Personally, I have had a special devotion to Saint Kateri ever since fourth grade. My teacher chose then Blessed Kateri to be the one we all prayed for in our daily prayer time. Growing off of that initial, prayerful experience with Kateri, when she was finally canonized, I studied her life and virtues in depth, reflecting and praying intentions through her intercession. For eyes to see the beauty of the world and of everything you experience, pray to Saint Kateri, and like a lily may she blossom in all of us the joy of the beautiful Savior, whose blood painted the most beautiful image of all, our salvation.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Let’s face it, trudging along in our daily lives can be dull sometimes. One must try, even if the thought is just a curious leap of the soul, to remove oneself from the business of the world and to look up at the sky. We must look up in the sky toward a marvelous sight, the light that propels life on this earth, the face of the creation, and the Creator of beauty.
In all areas of darkness, light abounds brighter than ever. In all things, we exist and share in our lives with our Creator. Everything we do is profound in its own small way. Everything that happens, happens with and for a purpose, with and for a cause, ever meaningful and ever present in our lives. Our lives are living, never truly dying. We will always have the light to look toward. The hope that always lets us know we are never truly alone in anything we do.
We must rise into the light in this very moment. This is what the fires of Pentecost are about. We must remember to put action into the journey of the disciple in sharing the truth and love of God in the world. It is waiting for the passions of our own lives to pass and form into one focus of love, pure and true. We are waiting for love, preparing for love, being there for love, attending to love, sacrificing for love, yet we must always remember that we ARE Love. We, as beautiful reflections of the heart of God can illuminate the darkness not only in our own lives, but in others as well. We can be beacons of light, shining bright for others to see.
Light is what draws us to the Heavens on a day with a clear sky. It is what makes us wonder at the millions of stars bursting in radiance in the night. It is what can illuminate any darkness no matter how small the flame may be. The light we see in the Sacraments passing from Christ into His people is nothing short of a miracle. The light we witness on the Cross, expelling all sin and darkness from our twisted up hearts, brings us closer to the very nature of love, the deepest kind of love, the love of Christ. In Him I see my guiding Light and my strength to carry on each and every day of my life. He is my starlight in the dark of the sky, letting me gaze of his majesty.
In everything, there is light. It is truly present infinitely in our universe. There is a place for us in the skies with the Father, for we, in this world, will rise a stronger people, ready to take up the mission of light, the mission of love, and the mission of hope for all who are searching for something, anything that can fulfill a restless heart.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Be sure to check out Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Laudauto Si, and visit the Catholic Apostolate Center's Laudato Si Resource Page!