Pope Francis’ recent Invocation for Peace with Presidents Peres and Abbas, respectively of Israel and Palestine surprised the world. First, that he extended the invitation and, second, that they readily accepted the invitation. (You can watch the video of the service here.)
As others have noted, the Vatican came up with a theologically acceptable way for people of different faiths to come together and pray. Namely, they come together and they each say their own prayers. No one pretends that the faiths are equal or the same. There’s no watered down prayer for all to join. Each prays in the richness and tradition of one’s faith.
Which means that in order for something like this to be effective, participants have to be willing to listen.
Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock.
In other words, the flock will not be kept together or increased simply by hitting people over the head, even if one is using the truth as the club to do so. The good shepherd, recall, is so concerned that he does allow even one of his flock to be lost. He goes searching for the sheep even if it may not be searching for him.
We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.
I think this is huge. When we hear people, we generally react. “I hear what you’re saying, but…you really are wrong.” When we listen to people, there’s more of an encounter with the person, sort of an empathizing: “I see where you’re coming from….Have you thought of…?” We may not agree with where someone is at, but we go there with them. Jesus modeled this for us throughout the Gospels. My favorite example might be the woman at the well. (John 4, 4-28) He listens to her, understands perfectly her situation, and he also reveals something to her which may not be recorded anywhere else in the Gospel: that he is the Messiah (vv. 24-25).
Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.
As Jesus did in John 4.
Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives.
The woman goes back to the town and “[m]any of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman.” (v. 39).
But this always demands the patience of one who knows full well what Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us: that anyone can have grace and charity, and yet falter in the exercise of the virtues because of persistent “contrary inclinations”.
So, bringing it back to modern day when we have the Pope sitting with the Presidents of two of the most high conflict nations in the world, when many crimes are committed in the name of religion, these men all modeled good religious behavior. Listening to the tradition of each other. Simply allowing those traditions to exist and not tearing them apart or critiquing them. Maybe even entering into the experience of each, really listening.
In other words, the organic unity of the virtues always and necessarily exists in habitu, even though forms of conditioning can hinder the operations of those virtuous habits.
This type of listening doesn’t happen on its own. We have to work at it. We have to see it modeled. We have to model it. It has to be something that we practice in every aspect of our lives, not something that we do only in front of the cameras or on special occasions: everywhere and always.
Hence the need for “a pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery”.
The Invocation for Peace was a step in developing that pedagogy. Sure, we’re going to need a whole lot more to develop it, but it was a very public witness of how to listen even when we don’t agree on very deeply held beliefs.
Reaching a level of maturity where individuals can make truly free and responsible decisions calls for much time and patience. As Blessed Peter Faber used to say: “Time is God’s messenger”.
Fr. Najeeb, the Domincan priest in Mosul whose email I cited yesterday commented a while ago:
“We are not protected by anyone, just the prayers . . . we need your prayers . . . I believe in the power of prayers . . . they can change the mind of persons . . . I ask in the name of all Christians in Iraq . . . to pray for us.”