Communications Manager Bridget Higginbotham blogs about her experience last month at the Order of Friars Minor first international congress on mission and evangelization

“If believing in God means to speak about God to others then I do not believe in God. If believing in God means speaking to God then I believe in God.” – Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, as quoted by Enzo Bianchi

As a communications person, I really enjoyed Enzo Bianchi’s lecture, “Talking With God To Talk About God: The Heart of Every Evangelization.” So much of the first part of his presentation was about the methods and importance of communication with God and each other. Bianchi is the founder and prior of Bose, an ecumenical monastic community in Italy made up of about 80 Christian men and women from five different countries.

In any type of communication, there is a message, a transmitter, and a receiver. Bianchi’s talk hinged on the principle that before we can be transmitters for God’s message, we first have to be receivers of the message. We need to speak with God in order to speak about God.

The first part of Bianchi’s talk greatly emphasized the importance of our role as listeners in our communicating with God:

  • The foundation of prayer is listening to God, not speaking to God
  • According to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, faith comes from hearing (“fides ex auditu”)
  • We become human by listening to others and to God
  • We learn to speak because we first hear
  • God speaks to our heart and our conscious, so it with those that we must listen
  • The story of Samuel and Eli shows us that we need to have a heart that knows how to listen
  • God often speaks without sound, so we need to look for his footprints
  • If we are assiduous in listening and reading God’s work than we will arrive at knowledge of God

Why is listening so important? Only an evangelized church can evangelize, says Bianchi. You cannot carry the word if you do not have it, and how can you have it if you haven’t received it?

Bianchi asked us to question why the first 25 years of the Catholic Church’s “New Evangelization” has been so sterile.

His answer is that perhaps theism is weighing down the Church – we find it easier to talk about God than to talk to God. We turn God into an ambiguous word onto which we project our own image. Likewise, earlier in the day, congress organizer Fr. Mossimo Tedoldi, OFM, cited “paper theology” as one of the dangers of our time: “Jesus was the word made flesh. We on the other hand, like to turn flesh into paper.”

Enzo Biancho at the OFM Congress

As my executive director Kim Smolik and I nodded along to Bianchi’s presentation, we were reminded of “the ministry of presence,” the way in which our missioners serve.

The ministry of presence can sometimes be difficult for Americans or westerners to appreciate or practice because our cultures often emphasize “doing” over “being.” But in this call to communicate with God as outlined by Bianchi, we are invited to simply “be” in his presence. The less we do, and the more time we spend with God, listening and communing, the deeper our well to draw from when we are ministering to others. Only then are we nourished by the only thing that will fill us.

Like a muscle that needs exercise, we need to practice just being with God. Why? Because we are programmed another way. This “deprogramming” is much of what our lay missioner formation program focuses on. We have to teach our missioners how to not do (ie: fix, build) things but rather be (ie: listen, learn, accompany).

We could see this even during our time at the Congress. I know that the way I instinctively wanted to “make the most” of the event was to take copious notes during the lectures, jump on my work email every chance I had, and worry over whether I had passed out enough business cards. However, our best work, which had the most meaning and opportunity to further God’s kingdom, was communing with other participants over meals and during breaks about our mutual love for –God, Francis and our work for serving those on the margins.

The language differences among the 140 international participants in particular reminded me of the importance of listening and “being over doing.” When my tablemates and I couldn’t communicate with words (whether in our first, second or third language), we resorted to gestures and facial expressions, and when those failed we simply ate together in companionable silence.

Clearly through these methods we were never going to arrive at a plan for world peace or the eradication of poverty, but we were still able to build bridges of understanding as we manages to exchanges tiny pieces of our respective cultures and lives. And as Bianchi noted, this listening made us more human.

Check out Bridget’s other posts on the Congress. 

Bridget Higginbotham is our communications manager and came to Franciscan Mission Service as a Nonprofit Leadership Program associate volunteer in 2011. Originally from Orlando, Fla., she is a proud Girl Scout alumna and graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.