Sunday, September 9, 2018

Listening Versus Hearing

If you had to make a choice, would you rather be blind or deaf?  I count among my Jesuit friends one who is blind and one who is deaf.  Having lived with both of them at various times, I'm hard pressed to answer my own question.

If you are blind you have less independence.  You need others to help you get around. But often that leads to greater sympathy and help.

If you are deaf you are able to get around and to be more independent but you are also more isolated.  Communication can be a big problem.  When I lived with a deaf man our community took turns mouthing the words of lectures and homilies and what was being said at large community meetings.  And some people, because they had to make exaggerated lip movements in order to be understood, were too proud or impatient to do so.  There is also a prejudice associated with people who are called "deaf and dumb."  In the book and movie "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" there is a deaf man whom some refer to as "Dummy."

In the Gospel at Mass today (Mark 7: 31-37), Jesus opens the ears and mouth of a man.  He facilitates that man's ability to communicate--to hear and to speak.  But there is a deeper meaning to what Jesus did and we see it in a short ceremony within the Baptismal rite.  At one point the priest or deacon touches the ears and mouth of the one being baptized and says: "The Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and the dumb speak.  May he soon touch your ears to receive his Word and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father." 

This little ceremony shows us that it is not enough to hear and to speak.  We must listen and act.

Recall last week's second reading from chapter 1 of the Letter of James: "Be doers of the word and not hearers only." 

In today's second reading from James (2: 1-5) we hear about the prejudices and judgments that people make between those who are rich and those who are poor, those who are well-dressed and those who have shabby clothes.  We must not only "hear" the words of James.  We must listen to them and respond, making sure that we do not treat our brothers and sisters, all of whom are made in God's image, differently based on their race, country of origin, or economic status.

And in the first reading from Isaiah (35: 4-7) we hear the challenging words: "Be strong, fear not!"  It's not enough to hear those words.  We must listen to them, take them to heart, and live them.  In other words, the best way that one can "proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father," as the Baptismal rite prays, is to receive this Word of God, allow it to transform one, and then live the transformation one day at a time. 

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