07 February 2010


7 FEBRUARY 2010. Today the Church celebrates Sunday of the fifth week in ordinary time. The readings for today's mass can be found here.

Here are today's questions for reflection: How well do we listen? Do we really hear what we would say we are listening to? And, if we are hearing in our listening, how do we respond?

Listening is an important aspect of each of today's readings, the psalms, and the Gospel passage. In the first reading from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet says he "heard the voice of the Lord." This hearing of God's voice followed Isaiah's vision of the Lord in which he heard the Seraphim crying to one another in praise of God. Then, the responsorial psalm begins with the words: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth . . . ." The psalmist is praising God for listening to his unworthy creation--unworthy, but for the love of God.

In the second reading from Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle speaks of the Gospel message which he preached to the people, and which they "received," certainly meaning that they had listened to him. Finally, in the crowning act of today's Liturgy of the Word, we hear the passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke that begins by telling us that Jesus had to preach to the people  from a boat because they were pressing in on Him "listening to the word of God . . . ."

So, do we listen? Like the people on the shores of Lake Gennesaret, are we listening to the Word of God? Are we listening as Isaiah listened to the Lord? Do we listen--do we receive--as the Corinthians did from Saint Paul and the apostles? Do we listen as our Lord does?

To listen our hearts must be in the correct orientation--that is, our hearts must be disposed to God through prayer and faith. Hearts that are only of the world will not listen. Hearts of stone, made that way by a focus only on the acts of humankind, will not listen. I pray that we are listening. I pray that we are listening with attentiveness and are yearning to hear the Lord. For in this hearing we are not merely listening, but are ingesting the Word and making the Lord's word a part of ourselves.

If we hear, then, we cannot fail to be effected. While passive listening is possible, such passivity is not hearing. To hear we must engage. If we not only listen to the Lord and the Church, but also hear, our lives will reflect that hearing--that understanding and making our own what we hear is what distinguishes mere listening from hearing.

In the first reading we know that Isaiah heard the Lord because he reacted. He first acknowledged his own sinfulness by crying: "Woe is me. I am doomed!" He heard the Lord and the cries of the Seraphim and knew that he, in his own right as merely human, was not worthy of the Lord. The psalmist also hears the Lord, as he acknowledges that his salvation is found in the Lord--but a handful of words, but so important an acknowledgment of hearing: "Your right hand saves me . . . ."

In the second reading it appears clear that Saint Paul believed that the Corinthians not only listened to him, but also heard him: "I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand." If the Corinthians stood in the faith they certainly heard the message of the apostle.

Finally, in the Gospel we know that Simon Peter, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, heard Christ Jesus. He spoke and they acted. To act in response to what is said means that true hearing has occurred. We cannot truly respond without hearing. To listen, to hear and understand, and then to act on what we have heard is the completion of the human acknowledgment of the Gospel that is provided to us today.

Peter and his partners put out into deep water and lowered their nets because Jesus commanded them to do so. This is in spite of Peter's protest that they had worked hard all night, but caught nothing. The response of the fishermen was rewarded with a catch so abundant that the two boats were in peril of sinking. But, remarkable as this response was to the command of the Lord, it is not the greatest response given by the Disciples in the Gospel. At the end of the Gospel it says: "When they brought their boats to the shore,they left everything and followed him."

Now we have arrived at what it is to listen, hear, and respond.

No matter the great catch of fish, upon arriving at the shore the Disciples left everything--the catch of fish too--and followed Jesus. They listened to the words of Jesus, they heard his commands, and they responded with their very lives--dedicating themselves to following the Lord. So, too, in Isaiah, when the Lord calls the prophet's answer is: "Here I am!" And, "[S]end me." Isaiah also responds to the Lord with his life.

What about us? How well do we listen to the Lord? Do we really hear what the Lord and the Church teach? And, do we respond with our lives? Understand that the Church does not teach that all of the faithful should become itinerant preachers or contemplatives or ordained or take religious vows. Instead, we are each called to respond to the Gospel--to the triune God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit--in the circumstances we find ourselves in by living our lives with hearts that are turned to God. Eager to listen, ready to hear, and willing to turn over our lives to living in accord with the teachings of Christ.

To do this, first and foremost, we must pray. Prayer attunes our heart and our senses to God. Without prayer we are world-centered, when we are called, instead, to  be Christ-centered. Then, with a heart that is prepared by prayer, we must receive the sacraments. Those external signs of internal grace are necessary to sustain us in this world. Through prayer and the sacraments, then, we listen, we hear, and we respond.

Have a blessed Sunday.

NOVUS: Attending mass after writing this post, it also occurred to me (I don't know how I missed it) that there is also a striking resemblance between Isaiah's response to God and Simon Peter's response. Both begin, in the presence of the Lord, with a confession of failure and humility. Isaiah says: "Woe is me. I am doomed!" And Saint Peter, at the knees of Christ, says: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." The humility of this response to God--a reflection of the gracious humility of our Lord in reaching to us to offer salvation--is striking. In both cases too, the Lord listens, hears, and reacts with perfect love. Isaiah's lips are made clean by the ember from the altar. So, too, Saint Peter is made a fisherman of men, worthy to follow Christ as His Apostle.

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