I’m starting the homily today with a personal confession. For many years of my life I was not at all concerned that I was not a good listener. I didn’t realize that I had the problem. But at some point early in my priesthood — probably very suddenly — I was let in on the secret that listening intently with open ears and open mind is an extremely important element in human relationships — and that I had not yet developed that skill.
Thirty or so years ago, on a typical day off, I’d spend the evening with my widowed mother. Sitting in her comfortable recliner, I would, all at the same time, talk on the phone, watch TV, read TIME Magazine, and listen (I use the word loosely) to some news about the family that Mother was trying to share with me. How often that scenario ended with her saying, “Dick dear, I know you didn’t hear a word I said; but that’s alright. I’ll tell you again later.”
When we don’t really listen, when we don’t turn to the person who is speaking and give him our undivided attention, we are depriving ourselves of the gift that person is offering and are hurting her with the response that the message isn’t worth our time or attention.
One of the most precious gifts we can give to everyone in our life is to listen and to give clear signs that we are eager to hear and to understand and that the message or the information offered is important, valuable, and worth sharing. Think of the persons who make you feel best about yourself, and chances are that you are thinking about the eager listeners in your life.
Prayer is primarily listening to God. Great people from all walks of life listen with their whole minds and hearts to the Spirit of God within them. They ask for wisdom and understanding, and they listen. They ask for direction and faith, and they listen. They ask for a loving, forgiving heart, and they listen. They build that listening into their lives by finding time every day, however few the minutes, to be alone and quiet with God. They are always aware that God is constantly present to them, and they consciously listen to God many times in the course of the day.
Consider two of the readings we’ve just heard in this Sunday Mass. In one, a young man by the name of Samuel learns to listen and to discern the voice of God. None of us is born with the skill of listening — neither was Samuel. We have to develop it with the help of others, beginning with our parents. Samuel acquired the skill and honed it to extraordinary sensitivity, making him the powerful and good person he became.
And the other is the Gospel passage, which is about the beginnings of Christian discipleship — Jesus’ choosing the followers who would take him and his message of love ultimately to the whole world. They were young men and women, rugged people of the earth and of the sea, who dared to listen to this man and have their lives turned upside down in the cause of fuller life for everyone.
It’s really very simple. Living as we do in a sandstorm of words and signals that seem never to stop or to slow down, we, certainly more than people at any other time in human history, have to commit ourselves to becoming listeners.