By Sr Louise O'Rourke
I have at times witnessed a parenting technique my brother would use with my 5-year-old niece. When she was distracted or he wanted to call extra attention to what he was saying, he would tell her to put on her ‘listening ears.’ I would smile to myself as she made the gesture of putting her hands up to her ears to show that she was truly listening.
This Sunday’s Gospel is asking each one of us to put on our ‘listening ears.’ We witness an encounter between a scribe and Jesus. When approached and asked which is the first the commandments, Jesus answers with the words of the Shema, a simple but life-immersing prayer which the Jewish people would pray at least twice daily to remind them of who gave them life, who gives love, who gives us other brothers and sisters to walk alongside and practice and receive love. It was a prayer also which would have been formative for Jesus, and he drew upon it in his teachings: ‘Listen, Israel…’
The call to listen should stir in us something – a stillness, a questioning, a moment of waiting for something to come to birth, to catch the rhythm of God’s voice. The first words of the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict read: “Hear and heed, my child, the voice of the Master.” Not just to hear…but also to heed. The disciple must listen with an open heart to the voice of the One who desires to teach so much. Sometimes we hear it deep in our own souls, at other times, through a conversation of the heart with another person, or through discernment in community; or in something we read or observe about life in general. The still and small voice of God is whispering to us all the time about the good, the happiness to which we are called, the call to be in communion. However, we acknowledge that it can be hard to hear God’s voice because we can be too distracted, too overwhelmed with internal and external noise. The Shema falls on deaf ears.
“Listen Israel”- so our listening ears are on, and Jesus continues to present to us the supreme commandment, the infamous ‘Golden Rule,’ that is, to love God completely and our neighbour as ourselves. To love God with all that we are, were and ever will be. As the hymn goes, “Jesus, all for Jesus.” If we love God and love others in God, then we are keeping the commandments. We are loving him completely without holding back. In a world which continues to promote an ‘I-culture,’ here is a teaching where the proper love of self depends upon the love of God and our obedience to his commandments. The fruit is that by loving God we know how best to love our neighbour since self-love will be rooted in the love of God. Later at the Last Supper, Jesus will again speak of this primacy of love when He washes the feet of his disciples and gives them the new commandment, to love one another as He has loved them.
Going back to the power of listening. When we sit in silence, we can enter a place of stillness where our minds, hearts and wills, rest in Jesus. We reach that point of union where the response we have can only be but love. I was reminded of an article from the Rule of Life which guides the Congregation to which I belong: “We appreciate silence as a precious gift which prepares the way for an authentic relationship with God and among ourselves. In listening we offer hospitality to the Lord and to our neighbour and learn the art of true communication. We draw strength of clarification, of purification and concentration upon those things which are essential. Silence thus leads us to the fullness of interior life.” (Rule of Life no. 60)
Pope Francis has chosen the single word, “Listen!” as the theme for the 56th World Communications Day, which will be celebrated in 2022. In announcing this he wrote: “Jesus himself asks us to pay attention to how we listen (cf. Lk 8:18). To be able to truly listen requires courage, and a free and open heart, without prejudice. At this time when the whole Church is invited to listen in order to learn to be a synodal Church, we are all invited to rediscover listening as essential for good communication.”
So, let’s put on our ‘listening ears’ and be prepared to catch the rhythm of God’s voice and that of our brothers and sisters so we can truly live the call to love God and our neighbour as ourselves!