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IF we are going to open our hearts to others there is one quality we shall have to acquire, and this may be more difficult than we think. We shall have to learn to listen. Very few men and women know how to listen properly. The majority of conversations between human beings are interrupted monologues, cutting across each other.

When people meet, they usually start by asking: "How are you?", "How are things?" But who stops to listen to the answer? In England people say: "How do you do?" so automatically that it is now bad form to start explaining how you feel. It is just a matter of form, a mere convention. After this, the man who started the conversation will usually begin to talk about himself and his affairs, going into innumerable details. At a certain moment, the man to whom he is talking will seize on one of these details in midspeech and attach a story of his own to it or something he wants to talk about. From then on, each will follow his own course, only pausing to take breath, like a car stopping at the traffic lights; and each of them takes the whole procedure for granted so long as he continues to have his own say. A caricature? I don't think so. You can find plenty of examples of it at all levels of society.

Not many people listen to others. They don't seem to realize that they have two ears and one mouth, and that nature herself expects them to listen twice as often as they speak.

The reason for this is that every one is so full of his own affairs that there is no room for anybody else's. This is one gift we have to acquire: the art of listening. The saints, now, were good at listening. A man like the Cure d�Ars knew, in spite of his sixteen hours a day in the confessional, how to listen to his penitents, and they all left the box amazed at the personal attention they had received. Sometimes you hear it said of someone: "He listens to you as if he had nothing else to do." That is a wonderful gift, and it has a tremendous effect. For nothing opens the heart more than complete attention, taking the trouble to enter into the worries which are being put before you. A school of patience, but in the first place, a school of self-forgetfulness.

You have to listen, not just to what is said, but also to what is not said. Not many people can take in the meaning of an awkward silence, a half-uttered word, a word kept back. They listen to words and sounds; they have no ears for mute distress or semi-confidences timidly offered. Sometimes you even have to arrive at a meaning when the words say the opposite, like Our Lady at the marriage at Cana, when she asked the Master to do something and received an apparently negative reply. She turned to the servants and made a sign to them to be ready for what was coming. She listened to more than the words.

You have to listen, even when you know more, perhaps, about the matter than the person who is speaking to you. You have to listen by raising to the highest possible level the value of what others have to contribute. Do you remember what Lavelle said? "The greatest good we can do for others is not to give them what we have, but to show them how much they have to give."

There are wonderful listeners who have the gift of getting others to talk, bringing out the best in them, making them surpass themselves by encouragement and expectation. Such listeners are rare, but history tells us that more than one writer found the best of his inspiration and power to write in the affection and comradeship of a wife eager for communion with her husband.

Blessed are they who know how to listen intently enough to hear God. We find it difficult to believe that God speaks to us, yet he never stops speaking. Then why don't we hear his voice? Simply because we are not listening. If the radio is not switched on, no music can be heard in the room. Yet the room is full of music; all we have to do is tune in. We should tune in to the voice of God, who speaks to us in the Scriptures and in life, in miracles and acts of Providence. But to hear God himself in the midst of all the noise we make, when all the interference is jamming his speech, we must tune in to his own particular wave-length, which he makes known to those who pray to him and listen to him in silence.

Condensed from Christian Life Day by Day by Cardinal Suenens. � 1963 Burns & Oates Ltd. Cardinal Suenens, who died in 1996, was the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels and was instrumental in bringing the Charismatic Renewal into the mainstream of the Church.

 

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