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The Virtue of Attention – “To Encounter Another Person in Love”

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Modern technologies allow us to shift our attention quickly. We are confident that we can pay attention to multiple things and people at any given time and we value dearly our devices that allow us to stay so accessible, and so flexible to choose what or whom gets our attention at any given moment. Few gatherings (in theaters, churches, classes, meetings) begin these days without the announcement to turn off, or at least silence our cell phones (with the latter option still enabling one to text and email).

From religious journals to financial magazines to daily newspapers, there seems to be a growing interest in the value of being attentive to the task at hand or to the person in our presence. The underlying message in these varied media is the same - modern distractions and technological advances draw our attention away. Away from what? Depending on the particular concern of the writer, it might be our work, our driving, our learning, our family, our friends, and yes, even God. What all these articles seem to be recognizing is that we – humanity – are losing something very important when we do not give (pardon the use of an overused phrase), some “quality time” to a book, a creative project, a family member, a neighbor, and God.

Why share these thoughts on the issue of attention on a Catholic Charities blog? Because at the essence of a Catholic Charities agency is “caritas,” (Latin for “charity” or “selfless love”), and caritas demands that we see the face of God in each and every person, and give each and every person the full attention to which he/she is entitled. To do otherwise at a Catholic Charities agency would mean that the quality of service is diminished, that human dignity is not respected, and most importantly that a wonderful opportunity is missed to give “quality time” to Jesus Himself (as He promised in Matthew 25). Pope Francis, in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, states that “Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God.”  

Last year’s Catholic Charities Consumer Feedback Surveys reported that 96% of Catholic Charities’ clients stated affirmatively that they were treated with kindness and respect. Catholic Charities’ staff seek to make a connection with clients. Perhaps a smile is acknowledged with a smile in return. Perhaps there are periods of silence, which serve to quietly lay roots of connectivity. Staff listen, and do not rush a response. In the Bible we learn of God sending his message in the softest of breezes. Only one who remains attentive will receive a message sent in soft voices, in subtle facial expressions, and in the slightest of hand gestures. For Catholic Charities’ clients, weighed down by life’s struggles and economic fears, or recently arriving from refugee camps overseas, or facing an emotional crisis or mental illness, what is needed, first of all and more than anything else is being acknowledged fully as a human being entitled to be recognized and heard.

It has been said that the most successful politicians are those who make someone with whom they are meeting feel like they are the only other person in the room. Feedback from Catholic Charities’ clients seems to indicate that that’s exactly the way our staff make our clients feel! It was refreshing to read a recent essay in America magazine that noted paying attention as a “supreme act and virtue of the mind.” This Easter Season, let’s take the time to listen to the Lord. Let’s go and meet Him and spend time with Him – perhaps in the presence of the Eucharist, perhaps in the presence of someone who is poor, hungry, sick, lonely, in prison. And perhaps we should all add to our prayers, a prayer for the virtue to pay attention.

 

By Joseph Purello, Director,
Office of Social Concerns and Advocacy

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Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte © 2014