Benedictines like to say listening is the heart of monastic life. “Listen” is the first word of the Rule of St. Benedict that we follow. Listening to God, to each other, to the head of the community are all part of what defines who we are as monastics. But if we were to be really honest we would also say that listening is very difficult. So when I saw that some Gonzaga alumni were protesting the choice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a commencement speaker it struck me that listening is precisely what is so lacking in public and religious discourse in our society today.
After reading the concerns of the alumni I can see where they might have some concerns about some of the comments or public stands that Tutu has made over the years. But I also wonder what happens when any of us say that we don’t want to listen to someone based on the fact that we don’t already agree with everything some says or believes.
None of us are free from guilt in this regard. Politically and spiritually I probably agree with most of what Tutu says. But I know am prone to quickly dismissing people whom I have judged to be “wrong” because of a stereotyped perception based on very little evidence. Like a lot (most?) people I tend to intellectually lazy. I don’t really want to be challenged, I’d rather stay in my safe bubble talking to people who already agree with me.
However, as a convert to Catholicism I have come to appreciate the fact that the Catholic Church encompasses an amazing variety of viewpoints, practices and cultures. We don’t always agree with one another and on occasion all of us become quite un-Christian in how we disagree with one another. But somehow we are held together by our common faith, our common baptism, our common heritage as Roman Catholics.
Perhaps the gift we have to give to our culture and our world today is how we all remain faithful Catholics even when we feel that “those people” who disagree with our positions are probably not really faithful Catholics. We will be a witness to the world if we are able to listen to the people we disagree with, if we are able to continue to share together, if we can see that there is a common faith that holds us together even as we wrestle with the things that separate us.
Living in a monastic community means that it is very easy to judge one another. It is easy to reduce another person to the few characteristics we don’t like, to their most irritating behavior. But to really live in community we don’t have the luxury of dismissing people and not listening to them. I hope that I don’t refuse to listen to someone because of a few things that I don’t like. I hope that being Catholic and receiving a Catholic education means listening to people we may disagree with and doing so with an attitude of respect and open dialogue.