Discipleship and “Supercommunication”

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “How to Become a Supercommunicator.” by Charles Duhigg (sorry its behind a paywall). Duhigg posits that there are people in our community who are “supercommunicators,” people who are “better at connecting with others, hearing what’s unsaid and speaking so others want to listen.” These people are “capable of saying exactly the right thing, breaking through to almost anyone, figuring out how to connect in even the most unlikely circumstances.” They are the friends or family member we call after a tough day, the colleague who knows how to really connect with people, the neighbor who can build bridges. They are the supercommunicators.

You know, I think we Christians have another word for these people: disciples. I say this because the author of the article, Charles Duhigg, after he defines what he means by supercommunicators goes on to say that any of us can learn simple techniques that can help us to raise our communication skills so that we too can become “super” (Just like any of us can become a disciple). He then offers four skills that supercommunicators share that we can learn so as to become better communicators ourselves. I would offer that these four skills are four skills among many of the disciple.

First, though, let me just say up front, that the greatest of the supercommunicators who ever lived and breathed in this world was Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was not just in his words that he communicated. It was in his whole life. He was brother to all and died for all. He knew exactly what needed to be said – “Go, your faith has saved you …. And who was the neighbor? …. Father, forgive them ….” – and what needed to be done to teach, proclaim, and heal. Most especially, he spoke most eloquently and was most “super” when he hung upon the Cross. We disciples seek to follow him now under the guidance and communion of the Holy Spirit, the great communicator of wisdom and strength that we know so well.

That being said, I return to the fours skills that Duhigg offers to become super- communicators and assert once again that they are skill that are inherent in the very call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I say this because they are all relational in their foundation, meaning that I start by seeing the person or persons with whom I am speaking as my brother and sister. So the first skill, “to ask deep questions,” means that when we meet people or engage with people at a social event or party we begin by caring about who they are and what they are saying beyond just a superficial response to what they may be saying. We move deeper into the conversation with them by asking deeper questions. So if they tell you they are a parent you say, “That’s wonderful! Tell me about your kids.” Or if they tell you what they do for a living or what college they went to to or any number of things, our response is to get ask a question that gets them to tell you more about themselves. Which then leads into the second skill …

“Prove you are listening.” Again, this is Discipleship 101 in that the disciple does this naturally because that person in front of you is your brother and sister and you want to hear them and come to know them and maybe help them to come to know the Lord Jesus as you do (perhaps one may discover they already do! Wouldn’t that be great!). So Duhigg offers that one proves you are listening by using a technique that he calls “looping” in which you repeat back what you have just heard and ask, in one way or another, if you got it right. (Frankly, I think this is something we learned in Counseling 101 but, hey …) But for the disciple it is not just a communication skill. It is relational. I’m listening. I care. Which brings us to skill number three …

What Duhigg defines as “Determine what everyone wants” which I think boils down to for the Christian is “what does this person need me to be or do for them right now?” Do they need me to just listen and “loop” back (that’s always a good place to start)? Do they need me to offer advice – “Have you ever considered this? You know when I was in the same situation, I found this worked for me?” And here’s one that’s really dangerous – “Would you like me to pray with you?”

Finally, Duhigg says a good communicator needs to “pay attention to more than words.” But while he focuses more on the nonverbal skills of gesture, tone of voice, facial expression and the like (again, Counseling 101), we disciples know it’s more than that in the end. In the immediacy of that encounter with the person(s) in front of us, while we know that the nonverbals are important as communication skills, we also know it doesn’t end there ….

Matthew 25: 35-36 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

And so we pay attention to more than words.

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Loneliness and Community

Loneliness concept illustration. A crowd in a circle with one person alone in the center

Two articles in the “Hartford Courant” of Thursday this week caught my attention in all kind of ways. They were both on page one of section 2, one above the other. The first was entitled “Leaders campaign to tackle loneliness.” The article reports the launch of a new statewide “social connection campaign that aims to combat loneliness through prioritized funding, pro-connection policies, digital reform and intentional collaboration between agencies, federal programs, nonprofit organizations, private partners and municipalities.” At issue is the fact “that more than half of the country’s adult population reports feelings of loneliness and social isolation, two factors that, according to the U.S. surgeon general, can raise the risk of premature death by 29% and increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorder and other illnesses.” Whoa ….

The second was about a man who is probably the oldest resident of the state of CT at age 108. His name is Al Pierro. The article goes on to recount Al’s daily activities in the residential care home in which he now lives as well various stories about Al’s whole life. It is clear that he was and is a man who loves being with people and finding ways to have fun with people still, even at age 108+.

I couldn’t help but think of these two articles as having an unintentional juxtaposition with each other, one article that speaks of the poor health and life expectancy issues connected with “loneliness” and the other article which speaks of a man of a 108 whose life has persevered in connecting with others, not in loneliness. Perhaps Al Pierro may have had his moments of loneliness, as most do, but his life is not defined by them.

These past few weeks at Sunday Mass, we have been hearing excerpts from the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. In it we hear Jesus’ first proclamation that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” As his teaching, healing, and proclaiming continues, it becomes quite clear that he is not speaking of an earthly kingdom but of a heavenly one, a kingdom founded in this world in relation to Him and to others. The Kingdom of God Jesus preaches is relational. “You are no longer a stranger to me. You are my brother. You are my sister. Everyone.” The same is true for us. Everyone is now my brother or sister. And when we accept the call to discipleship in Christ as his disciples through baptism, that relationship moves into the even deeper level of the Church, what we call the Mystical Body of Christ.

I suppose the Church might be numbered among the “nonprofit organizations” that might collaborate in the statewide campaign to combat loneliness (although I think we are technically “for profit” if you count eternal life), but the fact is that this is not a new “campaign” for us. It is one that was launched centuries ago in Israel, when God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son that all who believe in Him might merit eternal life. And in this time, and in this culture of loneliness and isolation, that message needs to be heard even more loudly and more clearly everyday.

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St. Peter, a Man of Few Words …

This liturgical year, we hear the Gospel of Mark (with some Gospel of John sprinkled in) proclaimed at Sunday Mass. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four and is almost universally held to be the oldest of all the gospels. Indeed, it appears that both Matthew and Luke use Mark as their source text and then add their own stories and accounts from different oral traditions than Marks to flesh out their own gospel texts.

Interestingly, there is significant evidence that Mark’s gospel is one that draws upon the preaching of St. Peter himself as collected by Mark. Here is a good source for this from another website:

The earliest traditions concerning this ‘Gospel’ come from Papias who is quoted by Eusebius and other writers in the early church. Papias, writing at the beginning of the second century, quotes ‘the Elder’ (whom Gundry considers to have been the apostle John)...

“This is what the Elder used to say: Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not himself heard the Lord or been his follower, but later, as I said, he followed Peter. Peter delivered teachings as occasion required, rather than compiling a sort of orderly presentation of the traditions about the Lord. So Mark was not wrong in recording in this way the individual items as he remembered them. His one concern was to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in reporting them.”

One commentator on Mark’s gospel recommends that we read it out loud, as if we were St. Peter telling these stories from his time with Christ – St. Peter desiring that we believe that Jesus is truly the crucified one, the Son of God. As I did so, it became clear to me that Peter was a man of few words.

Take this week’s Gospel for the 4th Sunday in OT. It is the start of a basic day in Christ’s life. This one passage captures Jesus’ mission in Galilee: teaching, an exorcism, healing, and proclaiming, all without a lot of details. No details about how Jesus was invited to teach, how many people were in the synagogue, what the possessed man looked like or how he acted. None. As Sgt. Friday used to say on Dragnet: “Just the facts, sir, just the facts.”

St. Peter, it seems, was a man of few words. So when he does speak (through Mark’s gospel), perhaps we should hear his words and ponder them deeply.

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“Praying the Psalms in the Voice of Christ”

Sorry about being behind in posting this week. I preached a week’s retreat for some of the priests of the Diocese of Burlington Vermont so I spent a lot of my time last week and into this week prepping talks and homilies for them. We made our retreat in Fairlee VT and enjoyed the first good snowfall of the winter – 8-10″ of powder which thankfully brushed easy of the cars. Temperatures dropped too but we were all warm and content inside, out of it all.

Each day consisted of Morning and Evening Prayer, Mass with a homily, a Holy Hour, and two conferences, one in the morning and one late afternoon. Since the Catholic Church in the U.S. is undertaking a eucharistic revival, my morning talks focused on John 6, “The Bread of Discourse.” We did a “deep dive” into the text as we will also be called to preach the it for five Sundays in a row this summer. My talks and the discussions that followed not only opened up the text for some spiritual fruitfulness and prayer but also unearthed a number of preaching possibilities for the summer Sundays. God be blessed!

The late afternoon talks – just before a Holy Hour in worship of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Evening Prayer – focused on using the texts of the next day’s Liturgy of the Hours, most especially Morning and Evening Prayer, as a catalyst for deeper inner prayer over the course of the day. My presentations were mainly drawn from a book by Msgr. Frank Matera entitled, “Praying the Psalms in the Voice of Christ, A Christological Reading of the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours.” Msgr. Matera, a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford and my former New Testament professor when I was in seminary, offers great insight and imagination in encouraging those of us who pray the psalms to hear either the voice of Christ Himself (the Head of the Church) or the voice of the Church itself (the Body of Christ) in the words of the psalms. My brother priests on retreat and I found we heard the words of the psalms in a new way which enriched our prayers this week.

My blessings to you all as we head into the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time this weekend. In the Church throughout the world, we will be celebrating “Sunday of the Word of God” while we here in the United States we will also be celebrating Pro-Life Sunday. But most especially, as we do at every Mass, we will be celebrating the Eucharist, the ongoing sacrifice of the Cross and the meal of our salvation at which we are privileged to receive the real Body and Blood of the resurrected and glorified body of Christ.

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Following a different “way” …

Epiphany Sunday, January 7, 2024

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” [MT 2:12]

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]

Happy Feast of the Epiphany! I offer this simple thought in consideration of the final sentence of today’s Gospel and the fact that the Magi went home by “another way.” I couldn’t help but think of this in terms of the guidance of the Holy Spirit (not necessarily a dream though) that leads the us along a “way” that is different from the way of the world .

I pulled out my Greek NT and did a quick check in reference to John 14:6 in which Jesus says He is the “way.” Both the text from MT 2 and the one from John 14 use the same Greek word ὁδος – a way, a path, a road, a journey …. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence of vocabulary. There may not be that many words in Biblical Greek for “way.” But that doesn’t mean that we cannot engage the text in an imaginative way.

So, just as the Magi went home or moved forward on a journey by a “different way,” we who are baptized, born anew into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, move in the journey of this life in Christ, who said “I am the way ….”

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. [from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost]

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Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts (for the year 2024)

There is an ancient practice of the Church, dating back to the time when Christians did not have calendars, in which the moveable feasts of the Church year are announced during the Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany. This carries down to today with the text available in the Roman Missal …

The announcement is chanted by a deacon or cantor after the proclamation of the Gospel:

Know, dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,
so by leave of God’s mercy
we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection,
who is our Savior.

On the fourteenth day of February will fall Ash Wednesday,
and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season.

On the thirty-first day of March you will celebrate with joy Easter Day,
the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[In those places where the Ascension is observed on Thursday:
On the ninth day of May will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.]

[In those places where the Ascension is transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter:
On the twelfth day of May will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.]

On the nineteenth day of May, the feast of Pentecost.

On the first day of December, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever.

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A glorious walk at low tide, late Christmas Day. Grandview Beach, Scarborough Maine.

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To begin with prayer and wonder …

This week of the Christmas Octave treats each day with the festive liturgical practices of a feast. Hence at Mass, even when we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, or even the optional memorial of St. Thomas Beckett, the Gloria is sung or recited at Mass. And then, of course, the antiphons at Evening Prayer for the week are those of Christmas. So one cannot help but ponder the great mystery of the Incarnation and the in breaking of salvation in the womb of Mary and the birth of God made man in Bethlehem.

The second reading from the Office of Readings for Christmas Day was a sermon by St. Leo the Great. As I have found it fruitful for my daily musings this week, I offer it for others consideration ….

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy:” Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth” as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, “and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ,” so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

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Hello there – Welcome to my new Blog

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