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Listen to each other

First slide

Jesus loved stories. When he told parables, he knew that only the believers would understand, only those who wanted to walk in step with him would appreciate the value of the meaning of the story. After the last year, we are all people with stories. Do we see Christ in our fellow man, and do we stop to hear and listen to the story? Listening to the stories is what will rebuild our society.

Someone messaged me recently that this year has been no different for her. Her children are small, and she was already at home with them. Her husband already worked from home. His work went on unchanged, and so did the rhythm of her days. I think perhaps she has not been listening. 

She is surrounded by loss. There are the planner pages sketched out before the virus reached its tentacles into our society and brought it to a near breathless halt — all those hopes and dreams and plans, all the ways time was mapped out and predictable. They’re a loss. There are the friendships, the communion with others strained or broken because we have become fragmented by our ideologies. Parents are estranged from grown children because disparate ideologies have created a chasm so wide it cannot be traversed without peril. Even the optimistic among us are stunned into silence because each wave of bad news and each poor response to that bad news makes it more difficult to believe that something good will come of all this. 

How can she say that life is unchanged? How can she be so oblivious to the palpable losses? How can she not know that something beautiful has died — hope, goodwill, charity, familiarity, innocence, optimism, kindness, understanding — and in its place is something far inferior? 

There are losses. There is death. In many cases, people have died, someone’s aunt or grandparent or schoolmate or soulmate. People have died. Dreams have died. Businesses have died. Friendships have died. Careers have died. We cannot deny the losses. We cannot deny the grief.

Jesus grieved. He wept. He suffered the pain of all humanity. The Jesus who knew the value of story, heard all our stories. He walked in step and treasured the meaning of the stories of our lives. He didn’t stand aloof and say he was unaffected. Jesus entered in.

Jesus personified empathy. He was so willing to truly know our experience of life that he took on human flesh and bones and agreed to die a horrifying and human death. By becoming man, God taught us what it is to be divine. He learned what is true about the human experience as he lived a human story inside human skin. All the grief and the pain and the hope and the joy — he knows it all intimately. And he offers us himself, his story, as the way to heal our own. God became man so that we might know who he is.

The whole Gospel story is one of Christ’s empathetic gestures toward humanity. Jesus healed by meeting people where they were and listening to their pain. Can we do that? Can we hear the story of our neighbor? Can we kneel and tenderly clean the disease from their wounds, however awkwardly?

Over and over again, the tired cliche "we’re all in this together" has been trumpeted to get people to comply, whether the goal is handwashing or mask-wearing or vaccinating. It’s so overused that it’s easy to miss its meaning. We are in this together. The Gospel we believe and we profess is one built upon empathy. It’s built upon the idea that we are called to be Christ to another. To hear the stories. To recognize the pain. To enter in and love sacrificially. Jesus came to show us exactly how to bind each other’s wounds. Then, when he left us, he sent the Holy Spirit. A world crying out for unity is a world in need of the Holy Spirit. As we walk the Easter journey toward Pentecost, let’s listen to each other’s stories. Let’s lean in and truly hear. Let’s bring real hope and healing; let’s be mindful that this is a world that desperately needs the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into it. If ever there was a time for mission-minded Christians, it is now.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@elizabethfoss