I'm in the middle of a parish mission at St. Susanna's Church in Penn Hills, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, a place I've never been. I was able to get together yesterday with a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in nine years. We had lunch and a quick tour of a beautiful city built on rivers and hills and which I imagine is even more beautiful when the trees are filled with leaves. Spring is more advanced here than in Wisconsin and I saw my first robins of the season yesterday.
The focus of the mission is the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the talks over the four days are: "The True Love Story," "Our Response to God's Love," "Living our Response One Day at a Time," and "Meeting the Merciful Heart of Jesus."
I used a story from Fr. Larry Richards at Mass today. It involves two people chatting when the phone rings. One gets up to answer it and immediately begins talking: "Oh, hello. I'm so glad you called. Say... could you help me out. I've got some health issues that are getting me down and I'm really worried about having to have surgery. And then there are my finances, you know, how with the economy and with gas prices rising, it's really hard to make ends meet. And then there's my son who's been unemployed now for two years and had to move back home and you know how tough that can be having an adult child back home after he's been away, on his own for a while. It's pretty stressful at times. And then my daughter could really use some help getting accepted into the program that she's trying to get into at the university. It's really competitive and her grades haven't been the best but she's a really good person and I think she'd really be able to help people a lot someday. Oh, and then there's my neighbor. Man is he cranky and I just wish he would lighten up a bit and not make such a big deal about where the lot line is and who's supposed to be cutting what grass. So if you could help me out I'd really appreciate it. Thanks and bye for now...."
The other asks: "Who was that?"
"That? Oh, that was God."
"Well, what did He want?"
"Uh, I don't know."
The obvious point of Fr. Richards' story (with which I've taken some liberties in relating) is that much of our prayer can be talking to God and asking for help but never really listening or hearing what God wants.
The readings at Mass today (2 Kings 5: 1-15 and Luke 4: 24-30) show people who have agenda and ideas that get in the way of listening. Naaman's agenda is that the rivers of his own country are much better than the Jordan. He refuses to bathe in the Jordan until his servants convince him to do so. He listens and follows their advice and is healed of his leprosy. Similarly, the people of Jesus' hometown of Nazareth have preconceived ideas about Him and refuse to believe that He is a prophet, much less the messiah. They refuse to listen to Him and Jesus moves on from there.
It takes humility to listen, to let go of our own agenda and ideas. Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Humility means taking the focus off oneself and putting it on God and others. God wants us to share what is on our mind and what we need. But we must always be ready to stop talking and start listening to God as He speaks to us in the silence of prayer and through people who, like Naaman's servants, care for us.