By Deacon John DeGano
I have always tried to be pastoral in my dealings with others.
Since early in my teens I have invited the missionaries at my door to come in, have something to drink and talk with me about God.
I have patiently listened to my fellow angst-driven teens pour out their problems to me on school nights and have dispensed wisdom to them in return.
And as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of San Bernardino, I have been invited into the ‘sacred’ moments of life – birth, death and baptism into new life.
For all this I am humbled and grateful for the ‘gift’ that has been presented to me on such occurrences.
I have not always seen this as a blessing, however. As a teen I often felt a sign was affixed to my forehead with the letter “L” on it. While others might be labeled ‘loser,’ I had the equally uncomfortable label of being a “listener.”
And the awkwardness I felt then, and sometimes even now, was that I really had no more experience or expertise in matters of the heart or relationships than they had. They just needed someone sympathetic to listen to them.
And, in my immaturity, I mistakenly thought I had to give them answers.
Today, I am a more mature listener. Having received training in care giving and ‘tools’ with which to use in my role as listener and I am no longer anxious to ‘fix’ things as perhaps I felt I needed to do as a teen.
I offer my ear and try through empathy, to understand where they are coming from and what they are looking for. My goal (if that is what it can be called) is to let them know that they already have the answer to their situation. They don’t need me to ‘fix’ them, but only to help them gain clarity.
Each of us can be a gift to another if we practice the art of presence. To be present to another as a sign of respect, recognizing their human dignity and infinite value to God, who created us. By giving our full attention to the one we are speaking with and not texting or tweeting while half-listening to what is being shared with us, we affirm our brother or sister and their personal struggle in life.
We were made for community. And as communal creatures we owe it to ourselves to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This doesn’t mean monopolizing the other person’s time with our own life events, but by mutual sharing and listening with intentionality that the person sitting across from us is a beloved son or daughter of God and worthy of our love and our full attention.
And while we are practicing being ‘gift’ to one another, by all means, make eye contact! There we will encounter our God looking upon us with profound love.
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Riverside.
PUBLISHED IN THE NOVEMBER 2012 INLAND CATHOLIC BYTE