8th Sunday or Ordinary Time ~ 27 February 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Sirach 27: 4-7; Responsorial: Psalm 92; II: I Corinthians 15: 54-58; Gospel: Luke 6: 39-45
In our world this week we are witnessing, in powerfully tragic ways, what can be called a failure to communicate. The people and the land of Ukraine are being invaded by forces under the direction and control of Vladimir Putin. In spite of fervent efforts to talk, to listen, to converse the Russian leadership has refused to communicate except on its terms of surrender to the will of the Kremlin oligarchy. What could have been powerful examples of conversation leading to wellsprings of mutual understanding and reconciliation have turned, instead into fetid pools of brackish water spoiled by the blood and waste of war and greed. This dynamic is, sadly far too common in our world, in the church, in our homes, and hearts in varying degrees.
The pollution and destruction of our communications are not new. The wisdom of many ancient faiths teaches the need for the watchful care and renewal of our conversations. The holy Word of God to which we are called to listen this Sunday would speak of this call to awareness and renewal of our conversations.
Our reading from the precious Old Testament book of Sirach speaks of how afflictions are like a sieve of life that shakes and separates that which is good from the husks of the world. It proceeds to remind us how “one’s speech discloses the bent of one’s mind.”
Our beautiful responsorial psalm acclaims how good, how powerful, how needed is our giving thanks to God. Yet, like many who have gone on before we often sing more disharmonic noise of complaint than we would of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Our second reading, from the epistle of I Corinthians, might seem out of place. Yet as the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, tells us this is our work, to proclaim, to witness to the life-giving waters of the resurrection of Christ. And it brings us to the message of Jesus we hear in the Gospel as we continue to hear from the Sermon on the Plain.
Jesus challenges his followers to pay careful heed to what is flowing from our lives and our mouths. He uses the analogy of a plant and the fruit it bears. We would not look for figs from the star thistle. We would not plant redwood trees if we were looking to harvest grapes. Yet in life, so often, we are tempted to expect beautiful roses from noisome mindless chatter. Our world has become addicted to talk, and increasingly it is not real but virtual. There are now so many ways to share what we are thinking, often in response to some political, social, or religious issue that has pushed our buttons. We are well focused on screens and keyboards but to truly focus, to converse, person-to-person, looking to each other in genuine active listening is becoming the exception. This brings us, as Jesus teaches to share from our hearts, our souls, our minds, from whatever is filling our worldorour being. We need to allow Christ to renew within our lives the truth that we all are infinitely more than a brief sentence or a sound bite. We need to allow God to renew the grace and gift of conversation, the grace of active listening, and care-filled speaking.
This coming Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. We are (I hope) praying, seeking God’s guidance of what to “give up” for Lent. More fully I hope we are seeking what “to do” for Lent, for God. The renewed consecration of our conversations (real, virtual, imagined) offer a powerful opportunity for us to grow closer to God, and each other as we consecrate our listening and our speaking to the Holy Spirit. Lent, this year, also shares the opportunity given us in the Synod of the Church, a call to listen and hear, to speak from our hearts the concerns, wounds, hopes, and faith we are called to share. What may seem an impossible task can really become a simple way of living and sharing our lives, our faith.
God calls us to Listen… to Him and each other. The old saying that we have two ears and one mouth has vital merit. We are created with a need to listen. We have witnessed that when someone is hearing impaired their ability to speak clearly, freely is usually impaired as well. Let’s be honest. We are all hearing impaired. We may be deaf to those with whom we consider different or less than what we might judge them to be. How hard is it for us to listen to an homeless individual who perhaps has not had a shower or fresh clothes to wear for weeks or months? How actively, openly do we listen to a soul whose faith, or religion does not meet our criteria of orthodoxy? How gently do we listen to a loved one who perhaps finds people of their gender attractive? These human examples can be indications of our hearing problems with God. Is our prayer life a litany of prayers and petitions (with some thanksgiving of course) done as quickly as possible? Does the Biblical command to “be still and know I AM God” sound ok but it’s hard to actually do? Do we fear listening to God may cause us to hear stuff about us that needs repentance? Encouragement? Do we avoid listening to God as a teenage child avoids listening to their parents? But it is in listening we grow, we learn, we come to places where God (and others) can help us become that person God has created us to be. We also become empowered to speak with insight, empathy, and wisdom from God and each other.
God calls us to talk… with Him and each other. God calls us to talk…WITH not AT Him or each other. We all have experienced those talks, those conversations where we realize something has happened. In prayer, some Christians would call this “praying through”, where our prayer is a rich dialogue between God and our soul. There is an infusion and awareness of God’s grace and love that liberates us to want to be in the Presence of He who carried the cross for us. We are brought a place of the soul where we want to share what is going on in our lives and to…listen to God.
The same occurs with each other when we are willing to un-stop our hearts, our minds, our ears, and listen to what is really going on in the life of another person. We can’t hide behind a screen or keyboard. We can’t hide behind our ignorance, fears, or prejudices. We start to see and hear the person for who they are, who WE are, with God. We are then empowered, step-by-step, to start conversing, talking, sharing the things that matter, or simply the peaceful silence with God. We a freed to share the journey of faith with God.
As we begin this season of Lent on Ash Wednesday may we, together, share in the work of the Synod of the Catholic Church (https://www.synod.va/en.html) walking together Listening to and speaking our witness of God.
As a special Lenten devotion we will be sharing a weekly devotion of Holy Listening and Speaking.
For Ash Wednesday, beginning of Lent:
LISTEN: Be Still and Know I AM God (Psalm 46:10): Listen, silently, to God, before the Blessed Sacrament or a crucifix.
2). SPEAK: Share, with one person, a Lenten hope God has given you and listen to their hope.