Faith at Home is a monthly column coordinated by the Diocese of Trenton’s Departments of Catechesis, Evangelization and Family Life, and Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For additional Faith at Home resources, visit dioceseoftrenton.org/faith-at-home.

As a die-hard musical theatre fan, I have many “favorite” songs. From Rodgers and Hammerstein to Lin-Manuel Miranda, there is just so much beautiful music that it is almost impossible to pick just one favorite song. But in my top three of all-time favorite musical pieces is “Children Will Listen,” from Stephen Sondheim’s classic, “Into the Woods.”

I was a teenager when I first heard this song and was caught up in the drama and artistic beauty of these wonderful theatrical pieces that I was just discovering. I loved the melodies and the plot, but was not paying too much attention to the depth of the lyrics. Years later, as a mother, I heard – and listened to – this particular song quite differently. These lyrics resounded with me in a new and meaningful way: “Careful the things you say, children will listen … children may not obey, but children will listen … careful before you say, ‘Listen to me.’” 

Listening is an art. Hearing, which just refers to the perception of sound, is one thing, but listening has to be intentional.

The Church has always understood and taught the importance of listening to one another, and this is being communicated right now in a most exciting and new way through Pope Francis’ direction of the current Synod. The Holy Father hopes that our efforts will bring forth a “synodal Church,” “a listening Church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.” In diocesan parishes, we are being given an exciting challenge through this Synod, which is beautiful in its simplicity: we are just being asked to listen to one another in a spirit of charity. By listening to each other in this way, we are being given the opportunity to transform our very selves as the Body of Christ.

But we must ask, why has listening – truly listening – to one another become so challenging in our age? We would probably all agree that the nature of modern life has affected our ability in this area. We tend to communicate in brief snippets via text throughout the day, and generally rely more and more on technology to understand the world around us instead of directly from each other. Luckily, the ways we can improve our ability to listen are fairly simple and just require that we remember to include them in our daily interactions.

Listen actively.  How often do we listen to someone in a way that shows we are engaged and paying attention? The temptation many of us feel to multi-task can fool us into thinking we are listening while the other person perceives that we really aren’t. Face-to-face communication, asking questions, and paying attention to body language are a few ways we can listen actively.

Listen without interruption or judgment. It is a very human temptation to want to jump in to give our own opinions or correct someone if we think they are wrong about something. But even if our intentions are good, we do better to allow the other person to speak freely, especially since we don’t necessarily know the whole of what someone is trying to express unless we let the person finish. Listening in this way also encourages mutual trust and respect, important cornerstones of all good relationships.

Take time just to be with each other. St. Teresa of Calcutta once talked about how in her ministry in India, she noticed that people understood the importance of just being with one another. She noted, “We Westerners would probably call that ‘wasting time.’  But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love.” This may be a challenge in our fast-paced society, but it is worth working on for the sake of our relationships.

Above all else, we can look to Christ for the very best model of listening to one another in love.  Our God came to serve, and not to be served; what a beautiful reminder of how important it is to serve one another simply by listening, acknowledging and honoring the other person’s importance as a beloved child of God. As the Holy Father once said, “He teaches us to listen to all, heart to heart, with tenderness and mercy, and to seek what truly unites and serves in mutual edification.”

Jessica Donohue is parish catechetical leader in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton.