Sunday, September 9, 2012

All Ears

   Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

A couple of months ago
I was offering Mass at one of our local nursing homes.  
The intended message of my homily
was to be one about the importance of listening. 
So I started out by asking the question,
“Does anybody here know
why God gave us two ears but only one mouth?” 
Which is when I got the thoughtful reply,
“So we’d have something to hold up our glasses!” 
Very true, very true…just not quite what I was looking for…

Every few months, when I’m preparing a homily,
a very frustrating thing happens.
I’ve been working long and hard,
really struggling to put something together,
and it’s nearly complete, when I realize:
This is the wrong message.  This is not what I’m supposed to say!
Oh, the first homily I’d put together was good enough—
not necessarily my best work ever, but certainly acceptable.
It just wasn’t the right homily.
In my heart of hearts,
I’ve realized it isn’t what God wants me to say.
And so it’s back to the drawing board
with a new message so lately arrived on the scene.

My initial reaction is to blame God for all the wasted time and effort.
Where have you been?  Why were you holding out on me?
But I know—deep down—that God isn’t the root of the problem.
The problem more often than not
is that I’ve been too eager to speak
without first taking enough time to listen.

In the gospel, Jesus heals a man who’s both deaf and mute.
The man’s dual handicaps are a vivid reminder
of the intimate ties between hearing and speaking.
It’s quite a curious thing Jesus does:
dramatically, miraculously curing the man,
such that his ears are open and his tongue loosed…
…but then ordering him—and all in the crowd—
to be sure and keep quiet about it.
Why should Jesus remove his speech impediment
if he’s not then going to let the man speak?
Well, because before the man or the crowds can speak aright—
before they can understand that this Jesus
is more than just a wonderworker, more than a folk hero—
they’ll need to take some time to listen.
If they’re going to be his messengers,
then they must hear the Good News Jesus came to announce
and not just spread their hasty first impressions.
After all, they’ve been given one mouth but two ears.

I can think of three ways—among many others, of course—
in which this insight from the gospel can be of particular help.

One is in prayer.
Many of us—myself included—
spend a whole lot of our time in prayer talking away.
No doubt, God likes to hear from us…
…but what about hearing from him?
If we treated any of our friends on earth
the way we do our God in heaven—
either jabbering away incessantly,
or only getting in touch when we really, really need something—
then they would have long ago charged their address
or put us on their Do Not Call List!
It’s been said that the real value of our prayer
is not that God will eventually hear us,
but that we will finally hear God.  (cf. W. McGill)
Let’s be sure that in prayer
our ears get at least as much use—if not more—than our lips.

Another area where this applies is in politics.
We’re sure getting a full dose lately, aren’t we?
And there’s still two months to go before Election Day!
Now, I’m not a particularly political person,
but I can’t help but take notice when Catholic politicians
take very public stands against this or that teaching of our faith.
Each one of us is entitled to his or her opinion;
each of us must follow the dictates of our own conscience.
But we have a duty to see that our consciences are properly formed.
And—especially when one’s a public figure—
we have a responsibility to avoid giving scandal,
to not lead others astray.
To authentically bring one’s faith to bear on one’s politics
means taking time—lots of time—to carefully listen
to what Christ and his Church have to say on the matters of our day.
That’s as true for us voters
as it is for those we would elect.

Prayer.  Politics.  And preaching.
I’ve already mentioned what this means for us clergy-types.
But we all have a role to play in proclaiming the Gospel.
It seems, however, that some of us are still taking Jesus literally:
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
That, my friends, was a temporary injunction!
I read this poignant reflection the other day,
written by a convert to the faith on the day after his conversion:
I have met Christ at the age of twenty-eight. 
I consider the years which preceded this encounter as wasted.
But am I the only one to blame for this waste of time? 
No one ever tried to get me interested in Christianity. 
I have friends and acquaintances, practicing Christians,
who have full knowledge of everything
religion brings to human life,
but none of them has ever spoken to me about his faith.… 
I was simply one of the thousands,
one of the millions of young [people]
who are neither good nor bad,
who have a vague and erroneous impression of Christianity. 
Do you know why I had to wait so long
before I discovered the truth? 
Because most of the faithful are too indifferent,
too attached to their own comfort, too lazy. 
They don’t bother themselves
about their neighbor’s soul.  (cited in Suenens, Christian Life Day by Day, p. 125)
Those stinging words were written back in the early 1960’s.
Isn’t it even more so the case today?
Those of us who come here time and again to listen
must be sure to then go out and speak up.

In the Church’s baptismal rites,
there’s a ritual known as Ephphetha—
drawn straight out from this Sunday’s gospel.
The priest or deacon touches the ears and mouth
of the newly baptized as he says:
The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak.
May he soon touch your ears to receive his word,
and your mouth to proclaim his faith,
to the praise and glory of God the Father.
So be sure your two ears do more than hold up your glasses!
And even though it’s outnumbered,
make certain your mouth also does its part
to announce to all the Good News:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God; he comes to save you!

1 comment:

MizzLizz said...

I really enjoyed this sermon - your openness to your own process
of writing - and praying - is heart warming to me. Thanks for another fine sermon to 'cook on'.
I especially liked the last two phrases.