5 Types of Questions That Help Us Pay Attention to God

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 14:21-27

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

Revelation 21:1-5A

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

John 13:31-33A, 34-35

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sunday Homily

A: How many real friends do we have? Do we know? “Here is a simple litmus test of whether or not you have any friends. Think of the most difficult struggle you are going through at this time… it could be something physical, spiritual, or psychological… The question… is: Whom have you told? Have you shared this with anyone? Friends share their struggles and receive support” (Fr. Stephen J. Rossetti, The Joy of Priesthood, 95).

N: Brothers and sisters, and guests, some of us have friends; many of us probably don’t. But some of us have relationships that could be wonderful friendships with God’s help! And let me tell you: There are some issues in our lives that will only be healed in relationships. God heals us through other people.

S: God, in the first reading, gives us a powerful example of what spiritual friendships can look like. It says, “Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God’” (Act 14:21-22).

Now there are two things we can pay attention:

1) St. Paul founded the Christian communities here; he preached to them and probably baptized them. But he doesn’t just leave them alone, but spends time with them and shares with them (Acts in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 178).

2) He tells them that we enter the kingdom of God through trials and sufferings. But he’s not just speaking in the abstract. He’s sharing from personal experience, because right before this gathering he was stoned! It says, “But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city” (Acts 14:19-20). That’s amazing! Could you imagine how painful it would be to get hit multiple times with heavy rocks all over the body? They think he’s dead. But he gets up and goes back.

And so, when he was speaking to the disciples and encouraging them, he must be bruised all over and have some kind of bandages on—that witness and sharing would inspire me to be more faithful to God, because if St. Paul is faithful after being stoned, so should I. It would also inspire me to be more tough and stop complaining, and make my troubles seem small. And it would remind me that to be a Christian means persecution, and loving and forgiving our enemies (Acts, 177).

And it’s not just sharing the difficult things, but the joyful. At the end of the first reading, it says, “When they arrived [in Antioch], they called the Church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).

You see, joy increases when it’s shared and pain decreases when it’s shared. Joy increases when it’s shared and pain decreases when it’s shared. This is what God is offering us today.

A: So one way to grow in this friendship and intimacy is to ask the right questions and share from our hearts. We share what God is doing in our lives and listen to where God is moving in other people’s lives. This is what we call Devout Conversations (Fr. John O’Malley, The First Jesuits, 110-114), which comes from the early Jesuits in the 1500s. It’s about asking questions of substance. “How are you?” is polite, but we can go deeper, for the sake of the other person. Here are five examples:

  1. “How are you doing?” “Well.” “How are things going lately?” Pay attention to the highs and lows of the person’s response. If someone says, “Yeah, work is going great,” then God’s working there—follow that! Find out what’s so great because their joy will increase!
    • But listen also for the lows. “Um… I had a disagreement with my wife.” God’s working there too. And we can ask, “What happened?” and then listen.
  2. After Mass, after asking how someone is, you could try, “So what did you think of the homily?” Now, typically they’ll say, “It was awesome,” so we have to follow up with, “What was awesome about it?” because something probably struck them, and that’s God working.
  3. One of my favourite questions is, “Anything happen recently that you’re thankful for?” because this question gets us right to gratitude, and gratitude allows us to perceive God’s workings.
  4. One summer, when I was visiting from Rome, Kyle Neilson, who is another coach of mine, asked a most thoughtful question. He said, “Well, everyone probably asks you the same question about how Rome is. So, what do you want to talk about?” What a relief! Because everyone was staying at the level of clichés and no one was allowing me to go deeper.
  5. One time, one of our parishioners had just given birth to her first child, and, of course, it was such a beautiful moment, so during our conversation after Mass, I asked her, “What’s the best thing about the whole experience of motherhood and giving birth?” She started to cry. So I didn’t press her any further, and said, “You don’t have to answer.” Later on, she did, and said that, after the delivery, when they put her son on her chest, “I had never experienced that type of joy, that level of joy and love, and I never knew I could experience it.” And she said it was great to share it, because, if no one had asked her the question, she wouldn’t have pinpointed that moment as the best moment.

Now never pressure people or make them feel uncomfortable. If someone doesn’t want to go deeper, don’t force them. We’re just giving people a chance to share what’s on their heart. And, if they do, listen and share in their experience! Say, “That’s wonderful! Tell me more,” or, “I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me more.”

  • When, for instance, I meet someone new here, I don’t go too deep; the most loving thing to do is welcome them, make them feel at ease, and get to know them. Hopefully, they’ll like movies like I do and we can built on that!

And, like St. Paul, be vulnerable and share something in your life. All of us have something to share. That’s why we’ve had many testimonies during Mass, because they’re real stories of how God has worked in our lives; they’re believable and relatable and thus strengthen us.

  • You can strengthen and affirm people in ways I can’t. Sometimes only men can strengthen men, women encourage women, and only parents understand what parents are going through.

In this season called Break the Silence God is asking us to do what the early Christians did: Be a community where we share our joys and pains and strengthen and encourage each other.

  • At our past Leadership Summit, I taught everyone in depth how to do this. Now I want to give you all permission to go in this direction. My dream for our parish is that, if we’re called to love like Jesus and proclaim Him in every circumstance [Vision], then we’ll ask loving questions and share what God has done in our lives.
  • And, for the next few weeks, when you greet me, could I ask you to ask me thoughtful questions, please? I’d love to have some devout conversations. Think about what you’ll ask. And, like we mentioned once before (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2018/10/28/2018-10-28-solicitude-for-the-needy/), those of you who normally greet me after Mass, please give others a chance to do so.

V: For the past month, since many leaders and I have been practicing devout conversations, there have been so many graces. I’ve seen people come alive talking about their grandchildren; I’ve seen people zero in on a passion or mission God has called them to; I’ve brought up problems and then God gives them direction; and I’ve seen people be strengthened by affirmation.

  • One reason why Alpha and Faith Studies touch the heart is because they allow us to open up and share what we’re feeling and thinking in a safe place. And now one of our sisters is going to share what God has done in her life, particularly through Faith Studies and devout conversations. This will strengthen and encourage us.
Posted: May 19, 2019

Fr. Justin Huang

Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.

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