Yesterday, I was able to answer a number of your questions in an “Ask the Priest” session on Zoom. The only difficulty was not listening to you and seeing you, even though all of you could see me. The next time we do something like this has to allow for listening and responding to each other, so that I am not talking AT you but WITH you, and Vice versa. Much of social media is talking/shouting AT someone else. REACTING is easy because it lacks thought and reflection, but RESPONDING is much more challenging because it demands that we listen to the other, absorb their message and then respond in a thoughtful way. Only then will hearts be able to be “opened.”
I love that phrase from today’s first reading, in which Lydia, a woman “listening” to Paul’s message, allowed God to “open her heart.” She was transformed and opened by God through Paul. Paul didn’t do it...God did!!! A huge difference, to say the least. Clearly, Paul was not talking AT her, or worse, DOWN to her, but with her, respecting her, listening to her. It was a two way street.
Hearts can only be opened when we listen to each other, refusing to give in to shouting, demeaning, and name calling. Nothing gets accomplished when the communication reaches its lowest common denominator of me telling you what is the right answer or response. Oftentimes we must engage in a conversation, not to convert, but to try and understand the position of the other, especially when that position goes against everything we believe.
We can make judgements on positions but not people. Each person is much larger than their political affiliation, even if they don’t think so. The gospel road is the higher road of respect. And if someone holds positions that are absolutely evil, our response can be nothing more than prayer for that person, and maybe distance. Distance can be a very good thing.
Open minds and open hearts go together, and become the firm foundation of the spiritual life. This “openness” can only be achieved by God, who sometimes uses people as human instruments and conduits of divine love. This is beautiful, and even sounds beautiful- “open minds, open hearts”- but be careful, there is a price to this way of living and loving. Traveling the “gospel road” may be taking the high road, but it will eventually lead to rejection by the wider culture.
Jesus makes it abundantly clear in the gospel today to expect rejection, and even persecution, for walking the gospel path. Wouldn’t it be wonderful/challenging to follow Lydia beyond the reading: how did she live out her faith and how did she face people who wanted to have nothing to do with her or her beliefs? If her heart remained open to God, and I want to think it did, she would accept rejection and challenge s a consequence of following the way of Jesus.
Questions I need to ask every day of my life: is my heart open to God? Do I listen to the other and only then respond? Do I need to be right? Why? Should I create a healthy distance from people who have values so opposed to the gospel? Or Should I maintain a presence in the hope that we can learn from each other?
All of these questions need to be asked in prayer, where we talk WITH God and listen for the response.
Jesus never said it would be easy, because it’s not.