Sunday, October 26, 2014

Attention, Please

   Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

Laurie had been a good kid,
but things changed when she grew into a teenager—
becoming uncooperative, argumentative, even aggressive—
and things were only getting worse.
All her mother’s lectures and threats
weren’t making any difference whatsoever,
and she didn’t know what else to do.
“Life is hard enough,” this single mom thought,
“holding down two jobs so I can give her whatever she needs
and even a few of the things she wants,
while trying to manage the housework besides.
But she won’t listen to me!
Doesn’t she see how much I love her?
Doesn’t she care at all?”
One day, Laurie’s mother just gave up.
The teen had disobeyed her again,
and was leaving the house to visit friends
without finishing her homework or chores.
Since she didn’t have the strength to scream anymore,
the tired mother simply asked sadly, “Why, Laurie?  Why?”
And in a calm voice, Laurie responded,
“Do you really want to know?”
Her mother nodded.
And Laurie told her, “Because you never listen to me.
You’re too busy with work all the time.
And when you’re home, you’re always telling me what to do.
Whenever I start to tell you my thoughts or my feelings,
you interrupt me with more orders or take off for work again.”
And that’s when the mother realized
that she hadn’t been listening to her daughter.
She’d been so busy trying to provide the best for her
that she failed to give Laurie the things she needed most:
her time and her attention.  (adapted from a true story told by D. Carnegie)

Most of us have a pretty good sense
that love—true love—is much more than just a feeling.
It’s never enough for us to make loving promises;
we must follow them up with loving deeds.
And yet stories like those of Laurie and her mom
make it crystal clear:
neither does love consist solely in doing things—
even extraordinarily generous things—for another person;
love, rather, means being there for them.
Love is often more a matter of our attention
than it is of our actions.
Beyond gift-giving, love calls us to self-giving.

We 21st century Americans are very busy people.
We’re in constant motion,
running from one project or event to the next.
Our whole society is hyperactive!
A parishioner—a retiree, mind you—
recently said to me with a sigh,
“I don’t have a life; I have a schedule!”
Even in our spare time, we act like we do on the job—
as if our worth is measured by our ability to do and produce.

Your spouse and your kids, your parents and friends—
are they only interested in the things
you can do for them or give to them?
Or would they rather have some of your time and attention,
to have you fully present and really listening?
The finest compliment I’ve ever heard paid
by one friend to another is,
“When I’m with him/When I’m with her,
it’s as if I’m the only other person in the entire world!”
(That experience is increasingly rare
with folks forever glancing at the latest text on their cell phones…)
If such genuine availability is prized among our dear ones,
might it not also be appreciated
by our coworkers or classmates or the clerk in the store,
by our fellow parishioners or even a stranger?

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
You’ll notice that Jesus commands us
to love our “neighbor,” not “humanity”—
to love real, live people, those with whom we cross paths,
and not some nameless, faceless crowd
held off at a safe distance.
It’s one thing to anonymously give money to a soup kitchen;
it’s quite another to sit at table
with someone who’s down on their luck.
The first gets stomachs fed—
don’t get me wrong, a rather important thing to do;
but the second keeps hearts alive—
the hearts of both who are involved.

That second commandment of Christ
is based upon one which is both first and greater:
You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Love of God involves giving our full attention, too, does it not?
Sr. Marie of the Trinity was a Carmelite novice
under the care of St. Thérèse, the “little flower.”
When God was calling her deeper into prayer,
she heard him say, “It’s easier to find laborers to work
than children to play.”
With God as with our neighbor,
we need to spend quality time—to “waste” some time—freely,
purely for the joy of being together.
We are called not only to be the Lord’s servants, but his friends:
to share his life, to be close to him,
over and above any way we might be useful to his purpose.
God doesn’t need us to get busy
as much as he longs for us just to be with him.

Simple and straightforward,
Jesus has spelled out his two great commandments of love.
Let us fulfill these greatest of the Lord’s commands
by giving God and neighbor our very best:
our precious time, our undivided attention, our very selves.

relying heavily on a meditation by Fr. J. Philippe

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