The very first word in St. Benedict's rule is "Listen." He tells his readers, "Listen to the master's instructions, and attend to them with the ear 0f your heart."
I have come to treasure this first word of the rule. It urges me to listen intently to those to whom I minister; to hear what is said and to hear what is left unsaid. Sometimes I think such listening is the most important task of a pastor. Without it, how can we hope to pray, preach, or serve our congregations?
Benedict's admonition also reminds me to listen to those with whom I disagree. Much of the time it seems our modern debates consists of us shouting at each other. We do not hear what the other has to say. Perhaps we have closed our ears to it. Or perhaps we are in the midst of forming our own answers to what we think is being said. Listening does not always mean we will agree with each other. But it might mean we can come to respect each other and to know the deep concerns of each other's hearts. If we do this we will find that it becomes very hard to demonize each other or to consider each other a person of evil. And if that happens it might lead to a much more peaceful world.
Next time you sit down with a parishioner, or with someone you disagree, please remember Benedict's first word. "Listen!"