We're always listening. Although, I think we prefer talking? For many, talking is so much more self-satisfying. It feels easier. Listening, however, demands selflessness; it requires a commitment to another: their life, their story, their dignity.
I have wondered, of late, whom the United States bishops are listening to now? Did they really listen to what was said, how it was said, and who was saying it at the recent Synod of Bishops while 270 of their brother bishops gathered from across the world to discuss the place and purpose of the family?
Indeed, the Synod appeared to be contentious, if not divisive, on matters of family, human dignity, and how to pastorally care for God's people among so many cultures. Not unlike government or office politics there seemed to be a lot of jockeying to be heard. Those bishops leaning to the right, or clearly on the right, of the theological spectrum, did not have time to listen to their leader, Pope Francis; or, to anyone who might not be in their "camp"? What I believe Pope Francis called for was an honest dialogue. A dialogue is not simply talking; a dialogue is both listening and talking. It implies an attempt to understand another. I believe it presumes good will, or benign intent. It requires leadership. Hmmmm?
I, too, have asked the bishops in the United States to better listen. I have asked them to listen to a community of persons who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender. My presumption is that if the bishops are going to talk about us and to us on any number of topics, whether theological, societal, or anthropological; then they need to listen and seek to understand us. Alas, since April, my respectful and hopeful plea has fallen on deaf ears. You see, I left Roman Catholic priesthood to come out as a gay man; and I have been ignored if not shunned? All I am asking for is a dialogue. I believe Pope Francis was asking for the same at this recent Synod on the Family.
In their 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message To Parents Of Homosexual Children And Suggestions For Pastoral Ministers, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops made two recommendations to parents of LGBT persons. I quote these two recommendations in their entirety because I believe they are the very same two recommendations I propose to the bishops as they assume leadership, now, to better pastorally respond to and address valued LGBT persons:
"There are two important things to keep in mind as you try to sort out your feelings. First, listen to them. They can contain clues that lead to a fuller discovery of God's will for you. Second, because some feelings can be confusing or conflicting, it is not necessary to act upon all of them. Acknowledging them may be sufficient, but it may also be necessary to talk about your feelings. Do not expect that all tensions can or will be resolved. The Christian life is a journey marked by perseverance and prayer. It is a path leading from where we are to where we know God is calling us."
In other words, this is not a time for passivity. It is not even a time to "wait and watch" for the final findings of the recently concluded Synod on the Family.
Here, and now, in the United States there is large population of LGBT persons who are courageously and beautifully influencing the quality of life and human dignity in society, and who are members of countless families that yearn for understanding. And, of course, they are all a part of the larger Kingdom and Family of God.
Together, let's invite; indeed, implore persons and organizations to more forth rightly press the bishops of the United States into action. Leadership entails listening, and now is the time to invite to the table of dialogue representatives who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender. Only this community can help the bishops of the United States to understand their identities, hopes, and dignity. And, should this request be ignored, yet again, I humbly suggest that the bishops should not speak to us or about us. In more cases than not, without listening, we find such speech offensive, disrespectful, and not reflective of the Gospel.