TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Deep listening and trust

The following TUESDAYS WITH TERESA article is from the week of 4 December. Please disregard the date listed.

Advent has begun with the fading of the Jacaranda flowers and the flowering of agapanthus, the violet colour reminding us of the season and the approaching of Christmas.

At the Cathedral we sing the psalm, often to very gentle sounds. This weekend was no exception and the response and this particular verse from Psalm spoke to me of Advent and of our faith:

Response - To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.

All the paths of the LORD are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.

This caused me to think of a text message I had received through the week, and which included the following words:

His behaviour scars the soul but he cannot see/chooses not to acknowledge the hurt he causes.

This disturbed me deeply and reminded me that so much of our faith and what we believe and follow is about our soul, the part of us which needs to be protected, nourished, cared for, held, respected….. The absence of this deep understanding of the essence of who we are, has the potential to destroy individuals and indeed humanity.

I am convinced that the process of the Plenary Council is inviting people to deep listening and dialogue. It is about inviting people to share their story, and in that storytelling to begin to enter into relationships, just as Jesus did.

In last week’s Plenary Council enews, Plenary Post, Lana Turvey-Collins made the following observation:

More than 21,000 voices have now contributed to this phase of the three-year process, and that number is growing quickly as more young people, families, priests and parishioners, school staff and students, agency leaders and staff, men and women working for the Church in dioceses and many other groups of people continue to listen to one another’s stories of their faith, God in their lives and their encounters with the Church.

My own experience of the Plenary gatherings in the diocese has caused me to believe that this process, of sharing stories, asking questions and deep reflection on what future God is calling us toward, is inspirational and worthwhile. It takes great integrity and courage to speak from the heart about lived experiences of faith, the place of God in our lives and of our engagement with the Church.

Lana reminds us that

As we move towards the end of the year and the season of Advent begins, it is an opportunity to stretch beyond our “Catholic circles” and seek out people who are part of the wider Australian community whom our Church exists to nourish and serve. The mission of our Church, and of this Plenary Council, is to bring about the Kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke.

It is Pope Francis who calls us to be a synodal church – a church of faith-filled people who speak boldly and with passion, and who listen deeply with an open and humble heart. 

In his address to the Bishops of the world, Pope Francis explains the importance of listening, dialogue and prayer.

A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening is more than simply hearing. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7).

This is not just a church thing. On last Friday and Saturday, I attended a strategic conversation on broad-based community organising. Towards the end of these two days one of the presenters broke open the Community Organising Cycle.

The listening phase requires people to share face-to-face their stories, which emerge from the pressures of life. It is about building relational trust. Lived experiences matter, and it takes time to discern what are the issues that really matter. It looks quite similar to what we are doing as part of the listening and dialogue for the Plenary Council. I wonder how much relational trust we are building. In broad based community organising, it is recorded that without relationships and trust, the project will fail.

I then came across these words from Henri Nouwen which spoke to me of Advent and deep listening: 

How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for. The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means “to suffer.” Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming.

I finish this week’s message with the special Advent blessing used at the end of Mass on Sunday:

May the almighty and merciful God,
by whose grace you have placed your faith
in the First Coming of his only Begotten Son
and yearn for his coming again
sanctify you by the radiance of Christ’s Advent
and enrich you with his blessing.

As you run the race of this present life,
may he make you firm in faith,
joyful in hope and active in charity.

So that you, who now rejoice with devotion
at our Redeemer’s coming in the flesh,
may be endowed with the rich reward of eternal life
when he comes again in majesty.

Someone asked me today if I was counting down the days till Christmas. I can reassure you I am not as I have much to do between now and then and the best way for me to attend to this is to live each day in the present. Like the year that has passed it too will come and go too quickly.

Continued Advent blessings.


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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.