Some of you might remember the sitcom Frasier, with its radio psychiatrist, Doctor Frasier Crane. His catchphrase was: “I’m listening . . .” Comedic effect lay in the irony that he wasn’t the great listener he imagined—at least not all the time.
We notice good listening because it’s rare. There is a remarkable depth or quality to good listening. This quality of listening seems to come from deep within—from an inner silence, a humility before reality, an openness to others, the sense that everyone has his or her own story, and, because each person is the image of God, this story is worth hearing. The Holy Spirit, dwelling deep within, prays in us in a manner more profound than words. He inspires spiritual silence and profound listening.
Good listening often includes attention, not only to what is verbalized, but to how something is expressed—and to silence. The good listener reads between the lines for what remains unsaid—and what is too difficult to say. Then, patient attentiveness can offer a healing balm.
Today, we are invited by the Lord to hear him, to listen to him: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” “Listen, anyone who has ears!” (Jerusalem Bible). It’s a striking appeal: Listen, please listen! Listen for what? Listen for his Word and for his will. Listen for Christ.
Christ’s call to “Listen” echoes other divine appeals. The basic command of the Old Testament, recited daily by devout Jews, is called the Shema Yisrael, which means, “Listen,Israel.” This “Listen, Israel . . .” (Deut 6:4) is followed by the command to love the Lord our Godcompletely and totally. This, in a sense, is the reason for our listening. It leads to love. True listening opens the ears of the heart (St. Gregory the Great). True listening opens the heart. Its opposite is the hardening of the heart (Psalm 95:7-8).
God continues to speak. Dietrich Bonhoeffer held that the task of the Christian is to listen anew to the message of the Bible, God’s Word. When Scripture is proclaimed in the Church’s Liturgy, it is Christ himself who speaks. His Word plants a seed that germinates and gives rise in us to the harvest that is eternal life.
Silence is the language of God, and silence is necessary if we are to hear, to listen. Not just external silence, but also interior silence. To heed God, we need to switch off intentionally from the self-talk that goes on in our head, to create the silence in which the Lord can speak and make himself known. This is possible. It changes us. It will bear fruit—a rich harvest.
Ask Our Lady, Mary Most Holy, for help in this. The Lord Jesus proposes Mary as the model of listening-obedience. Pray with her and in her. She is the great Listener, the great Contemplative. Though overtaken by the Sunday liturgy, July 16 (today) is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Saint John’s Seminary is blessed by the presence of many Carmelites—our Brothers, the Friars next door, and the lay-Carmelites who support and pray for our seminarians. Mount Carmel is the great image of listening with Mary for the Word and will of God.
While we can’t flee like Elijah to the holy mountain, we can set time aside for prayer and contemplation. We can prepare the soil and open the ears of our hearts. We can be intentional about our life with God. This is the most important thing. His Word asks something from us. That something is listening-obedience. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, to “obey” is simply “to listen to the voice of.”
Let us open our hearts to the voice of the Lord, to his Word and his will. The seed that is the Word of God will germinate in silence, in prayer, in following God’s prompts, and in the loving-obedience that is surrender to God’s will.
In Mary’s heart, we will always find the way to prayer and the way to peace. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us! Teach us how to pray. Show us how to listen . . . and how to love.