Friday, April 19, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter

In a joke told on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion,” a husband complained to his wife: “Why do women talk so much?” “Because we have to say everything twice!” she replied. Pardon the stereotypes, but the implication is that men are poor listeners. However, I think that poor listening is something most of us are guilty of, both men and women alike.

Good listening is a skill that many of us don’t have. We’re too distracted, judgmental, and preoccupied with our own agendas. We have short attention spans, and spend too much time thinking about what we have to say, instead of listening to what’s being said to us. This is true when we try to listen to other people. And it’s true when we try to listen to God.

In today’s gospel, however, Jesus tells us that we need to really listen to him, if we are going to follow him as our good shepherd. “My sheep hear my voice,” he said. “I know them, and they follow me.” Indeed, listening to Jesus is a theme that runs throughout today’s liturgy. We asked God in the opening prayer to “Attune our minds to the sound of (Jesus’) voice, (that we may) follow in faith the call of the shepherd.” And we heard in the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, how the whole city of Antioch gathered to hear the word of the Lord, and that those who heard it and accepted it glorified God and were filled with joy.

We too can be filled with joy, if we listen to the word of the Lord; we too are called to hear and obey the voice of Jesus our shepherd. However, listening to Jesus’ voice requires both effort and opportunity.

One great opportunity we have to hear Jesus’ voice is right now, at Mass, in the “Liturgy of the Word.” In today’s second reading, from Revelation, we were given a glimpse of heavenly worship; we heard of a countless multitude of the redeemed worshipping and praising Jesus the lamb of God- which is exactly what you and I are doing together this morning! However, that’s not all we’re doing. We do indeed speak to God and praise his name. But at the same time, God is also speaking to us!

You see, the Biblical readings we hear and consider together are the very Word of God. They are God’s words in human words, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Through them, God speaks to us today- right here, right now. We believe, in the words of Vatican II, that –and I quote- “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with (us).” We also believe that at Mass, not only are we nourished at the “table of the Eucharist” with Jesus’ Body and Blood, we are also fed at the “table of the Word.” Like Holy Communion, the Word of God, is an essential spiritual nourishment that Jesus is inviting us to receive today.

A few weeks ago, I was greeted after Mass by someone who identified himself as a Carmelite priest. He said that he had really appreciated my homily- something I was glad to hear! But then he said that after my homily I didn’t allow enough time for silence in which people could absorb the word, reflect on it, and react to it. As a result, he said, my homily had lost some of its power.

And I think he was absolutely right. As a matter of fact, the Church today, in its official teachings, is encouraging more silence during the Mass. Specifically, we’re invited to observe a period of prayerful silence after the first and second readings and again right after the homily. Not only does this silence force us to “slow down” a little bit, so that the Biblical readings don’t seem hasty and perfunctory, but more importantly, it allows us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It gives us the chance to ponder God’s word, assimilate it, apply it to out lives, and respond in silent prayer or praise. It provides an opportunity for the Word to challenge or console us, convince or convict us. And it allows us to prepare for Holy Communion.

There are a couple of things we can do if we wish to make the effort to really listen and hear what Jesus might be trying to say to us at Mass. First, we might prepare for Mass by reading the Biblical readings before hand and praying with them in the days leading up to Sunday. You can usually find a listing of the following week’s readings in the bulletin. Also, either during your drive over or in your pew before Mass starts, pray for the gift of attentiveness, so that your mind won’t wander or get distracted. Pray also that your heart might be opened to receive whatever God may wish to say to you.

Then, while the Scriptures are being proclaimed, pray for the lectors, the cantors, and the deacon or priest who reads the gospel, that they might be blessed with gifts of eloquence and clarity. Sometimes, I find it helpful to imagine the flame of the Holy Spirit hovering over the reader’s head, and I ask that they might be anointed by the Holy Spirit, who opened the mouths and loosened the tongues of the apostles at Pentecost.

Be sure to pray also for the preacher while he preaches. Pray that he might be God’s mouthpiece. Pray that he might preach lucidly, effectively, and powerfully. And pray most especially that he preaches God’s word, and not his own.

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