Seek first to understand.

When was the last time you really listened?  It’s hard. There are many things that can distract us from what’s important – school, work, family, money. But within each of these moments, God is at work in our lives. And maybe God has a message for us, a thought to lift us up when things aren’t going well. To hold us high when others are trying to bring us down. If we listen carefully, God’s deep message of forgiveness, of grace, of insight, will bring us comfort in the tough times. We just need to listen carefully.

The problem is, sometimes, we are not really listening. Like the disciples in our Gospel today, we get so busy thinking about ourselves, our problems, our sins, our addictions, that we become deaf to the truth walking right beside them.

I was reminded of Steven Covey’s advice, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” If you’re like me, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, we basically ignore the other person, pretend we’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation but miss the meaning entirely.

Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. We listen to ourselves as we prepare in our mind what you are going to say next. We decide ahead of time what the other person means before they even finish talking sometime. Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival–to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated. That’s really at the core of Catholic Social Teaching: the value and dignity of the human person. We want someone to listen to us. That’s why prayer is so important. We know God is listening attentively.

So, imagine then if we all affirmed, validated, appreciated everyone we come across? Trying not to respond defensively, angrily, or out of fear? Imagine if we all really listened first, tried to figure out what was being said, before we spoke or acted?

Today, Jesus is reminding us how to listen.

If someone who is lonely, who is depressed, wants to talk to you, please listen.

If you see someone who is poor, who is abandoned, who is an immigrant, please listen.

If you are a Democrat or a Republican, maybe try this week to really listen to the other side. What do they get right? What do they really care about? It doesn’t mean we have to agree. But demonizing the other will get us nowhere.

We all need to listen to our bodies. Our over-worked and over-stressed lives. What is all that stress trying to tell us?

And finally, if you know someone who has left the Church, especially recently, we need to listen to them. We need to understand, before those of us who remain can be understood.

Jesus reminds us today how we should listen. Not getting caught up in our own opinion like the disciples. If anyone one of us wishes to be first, let us be so blessed to be the last. If any of us want to be heard, let’s begin by being the servant of all who are trying to say something.

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