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home : bishop : columns

8/24/2017 9:00:00 AM
Have the courage to listen
'Like any act of love, listening must always be a choice! No matter how often message is transmitted, it needs a receiver. The air is full of radio waves, but without a radio receiver they mean nothing. That's also true of the Word of God.'
'Like any act of love, listening must always be a choice! No matter how often message is transmitted, it needs a receiver. The air is full of radio waves, but without a radio receiver they mean nothing. That's also true of the Word of God.'

"Let whoever has ears to hear, hear!" (Mark 4:9).

Even Jesus had a communication problem! Why else would He have to say this so forcefully, so many times?

Actually, the problem of seeing but not perceiving, hearing yet not understanding, is age-old. In Matthew 13:14, Jesus actually quotes Isaiah 6:9 and Psalm 115:6 ("They have ears but hear not").

Getting through to the people so that they could really hear the Good News was at the top of Christ's agenda, we might say. Yet not everyone heard His voice, only His sheep: "My sheep hear my voice" (John 10:3)!

This tells us something about communication. What is it about a sheep that makes it the most likely candidate to hear the voice of the shepherd? If we really want to know, it is docility: an openness to be taught.

This presumes a relationship of dependency: The sheep needs to hear the voice of the master, because it will get lost and probably perish unless it does -- even if it doesn't know it.

We are all familiar with the human phenomenon of "selective hearing." Even if ears are functioning perfectly well physiologically, we all hear what we want to hear. Listening is a choice to focus on what is being said.

Another way of saying it is that communication is a two-way street. If there is a lack of communication, it is rarely because of only one person.

Even if one person does not say much verbally, it is still possible for a true friend to listen and learn. Whether we realize it or not, we are all open books. Our lives are constantly sending out messages of who we are, what we believe and what we are thinking.

Not all communication is verbal. For anyone who is focused on learning by listening, it does not take much to understand how another is thinking or feeling.

For any human relationship to endure, each person must make the continual choice to listen to the other. Anything less adds a certain inequality to the relationship. All healthy friendships begin with a mutual commitment, whether verbal or not, to respect one another.

That's also true of our relationship with God. To hear God's call in our lives, more than anything else, requires a willingness to meet God in the silence.

How can God get through to us if we surround ourselves constantly with noise? How could we hear the "voice crying in the wilderness," were Christ to come today?

Speaking of how to learn what God is asking of us in our lives, Msgr. David Toups, a popular author and rector of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., advises us that "silence is key to sanity and wholeness. We can only 'hear' the voice of God if we are quiet. Take out the earbuds of your iPhone [and] iPod and listen to God, the great I AM. Young people should try to spend 15 minutes of quiet prayer each day. This is where you can begin to receive clear direction in your lives."

Take it from me: People my age need it, too!

If prayer requires silence in order to be an effective means of communication with God, so must our conversations with one another. It must be a mutual silence: When one person is talking, the other must choose to listen, and vice versa.

It may seem that I am stating the obvious, but this is by no means a given. Like any act of love, listening must always be a choice! No matter how often a message is transmitted, it needs a receiver. The air is full of radio waves, but without a radio receiver they mean nothing. That's also true of the Word of God.

God is always sowing seeds of grace with which to communicate His love for us. But the soil of our hearts must be receptive, so the seed can take route. We know the familiar parable about attempting to sow seeds on inhospitable ground!

Sometimes, it takes great courage to speak the truth with love to a friend. But it also takes courage to hear it! One might even say there is a moral obligation to open our ears - and the "ears of our hearts" -- to God and to the people in our lives. Otherwise, we may never understand that the reason life may not be turning out as we want it to be is that we are only listening to ourselves!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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