Page last updated at 03:57 UTC, Monday, 28 January 2019 PH
Another apostle who learned to control his violent temperament after encountering Christ was St. Paul. As a persecutor of Christians, he was responsible for their imprisonment and even death (as in the case of St. Stephen). With the grace of God, he learned to place at the service of the Gospel his clear mind and strong character. In Athens where he witnessed widespread idolatry, he tried to emphasize with the inhabitants. When he got the opportunity to address the Athenians at the Areopagus, he did not take them to task for their paganism and depraved morals. Instead he appealed to their hunger for God: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ’To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” This example of St. Paul should prompt us to always see something positive in the persons of those with whom we disagree on one point or another. St. Paul was able to understand and inspire others because he integrated and moderated his emotions. Because he was really seeking the good of his hearers, he showed the cordiality needed to grasp the situation others are in and focus on even the slightest positive aspect of their mentality. That was the way he was able to connect with his hearers, capture their interest and gradually lead them to the fullness of the truth.
The philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal said that “the heart has reasons that reason cannot know.” We have to use these reasons of the heart to be able to share the feelings of others. They open the doors of the soul more easily than do cold and distant arguments. It is the love of God that moves us to take on an affable and pleasant way of being that can show to others the attractiveness of Christian life. An openness to others lead us to discover positive aspects in each person, since loving the truth entails recognizing God’s footprints, however faint, in the hearts of others. Because each person has been created in the image of God, there will always be some good we can discover even in the most hardened criminal.
We must always give the benefit of the doubt to those among our friends, relatives and work colleagues who are misbehaving. They may be acting wrongly because they never had the opportunity to receive good formation in the faith, or because they have not met a person incarnating the authentic message of the Gospel of Christ. It is clear that empathy is possible even when others are in error. Pope Francis gives the following advice in “The Joy of the Gospel”: “Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.” In contrast, the older brother of the prodigal son was so full of himself that he was totally incapable of sharing the feelings of his wayward brother.
It will not be possible for us to share the feelings of others if we do not know how to listen. Pope Francis highlights the great importance of listening: “Listening, in combination, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.” Someone who truly listens to another shows that he is intent in discovering what is good for his friend. When we listen attentively we get involved intimately in the lives of others. We seek to help the other person to discern the specific steps God is asking of him at a particular moment. And when others sense that their situation, opinions and sentiments are respected, and even shared by the one listening, they are able to open the eyes of their soul to contemplate the splendor of truth, the attractiveness of virtue.
A supreme example of knowing how to listen was given to us by Our Lord on that Easter Sunday afternoon as He walked beside the disciples form Emmaus. Appearing to be just a fellow traveler, Jesus asked them: “What were you talking about amongst yourselves on the way.” He then allowed them to unburden themselves of their disillusion, their disenchantment and their refusal to believe the holy women who testified that Jesus had really risen from the dead and was very much alive. After knowing what was bothering them, Jesus started to explain to them the meaning of what had happened: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” We can just imagine the impact of the conversation of Jesus on the two disciples for them to say later “Were our hearts not burning when we were listening to Him?” As the article “Sharing Others’ Feelings” concluded: “With God’s grace, our dealings with others will also show appreciation for each person, a real understanding of what is going on in each one’s heart, thus encouraging them to set out on the path of Christian life.” For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.