It was a spiritual director who made the difference for Glenmary Father Dominic Duggins. In his twenties, he had been a Glenmary Brother for several years when a series of conversations with a wise listener helped young Brother Dominic put things into a new perspective.
At the end of the year Brother Dominic requested that Glenmary allow him to study for the priesthood. Over the last 45 years, and particularly the last five years, he’s learned to be a better listener, both to the people around him and to the inner voice of God.
Q: How did listening affect your life choices?
A: By nature I am a quiet person and listening quietly to others is a gift. Along my career, serving in missions and the Glenmary administration, I began to discover that it was my gift to listen to people. It was something that I could bring to ministry in the missions.
Q: Over time, did you become a better listener?
A: Absolutely! You have to learn how to listen and recognize within yourself that you don’t always have the answers. You learn that you just have to be present for people as a sounding board; more times than not they discover the answer by themselves.
Q: So there’s a connection between listening and prayer?
A: When giving spiritual counsel to someone, I listen to what the person is saying. Telling their story can be a form of prayer for that person. I take what it is they say, and encourage them to pray: “Dear God, here it is. What do we do? What would you do?” Or “Where do I find your son, Jesus, in this situation?”
There are times during that process that a light goes on. Sometimes it just takes listening to them.
Q: We hear about action and contemplation as types of prayer. Do both of those work for you?
A: Sometimes the conversation with God is quiet. I just go now to a quiet space, just sit there and be present. I think that God comes to us in many ways. Yes, God can come to you through me; and God can come to me through you. God is not restricted. I think, though, more times than not it’s in the quietness that God speaks.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to prayer?
A: The cell phone, social media, computers—turn those off.
Q: What kind of advice might you give a young person who would ask you, Help me to pray?
A: Recently I gave an individual a small prayer: “God, give me a peaceful and understanding heart, and the grace to let go of things over which I have no control.” It takes 10 to 15 seconds.
Down the line you could spend five minutes just repeating that phrase, or any other phrase. Tell God what you want: “God, I’m having a hard time at work,” or “I’m having a hard time understanding.” That’s part of your prayer, part of who you are. You can do that in three to five minutes.
I’ve learned to appreciate silence. As Pope Francis says, “Don’t talk. Just sit before Jesus and let Jesus talk to you.” That’s a challenge.
This interview is part of a series on the spirituality of Glenmarians. It first appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Glenmary Challenge magazine.