A Vincentian View: “Listen”
When we look at our current political climate, everyone knows that there is something amiss. Sometimes people describe it as a lack of civil discourse. I believe that. The reasoning given is that people have forgotten how to speak to one another in a respectful and brotherly/sisterly fashion, but we know that that is only half the problem—and perhaps the smaller half. The real problem for me is that we have forgotten how to listen to one another. We are unable to hear nuance and context; we presume too much on our understanding of the other’s story before we have allowed them to share it completely. The real problem is our inability to listen before we speak or engage in a conversation or act.
One could justifiably and correctly argue that the current scandal in our Church arises from too much talking and not enough listening, too much writing and not enough reading, too much explaining and not enough understanding.
Some weeks ago, in the Gospel, we heard the story of the deaf man who also had a speech defect. I am collared by the fact that the man has these two difficulties which need be resolved together. The story tells us that Jesus touches the man’s ears and tongue and cries out “Ephphatha!”
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
I love the fact that the healings happen at the same time. Once the man could hear, he could speak clearly. The two are connected. The secret is in the listening.
“Listening” is fundamentally important in order to speak correctly and accurately. This is true both literally and figuratively. When we really listen to another person, we hear not simply the story but the emphases, impact, and backstory. We know not only what a person thinks but also how he/she thinks it and the feelings involved.
There is a price to be paid for being a good listener. It engages us with other people’s pain and suffering. It should cause us to “speak.” It may summon us to respond in a way which is inconvenient or demanding on our time or resources. We can feel the burden attached to bringing ourselves to bear on a substantive issue and the response which it engenders.
We might ask how we listen to the news. How difficult it could be to allow ourselves to be fully engaged! Sometimes we must stop our ears and cover our hearts so as not to be overwhelmed. If we listen, we can be driven through a gamut of emotions. We can find ourselves encouraged to step back, and evaluate what we have heard, and ask what difference can it make in my life. And what difference can I make.
The summons to allow the Lord to open our ears so that our mouths can speak properly rests within our Gospel reading. It point us to something important about the Christian life. Are we prepared to ask the Lord to unblock our ears and accept the consequences? Are we ready to allow the Lord to speak through us and respond to what that demands in word and action? Each of us begins with the question (which is a kind of examination of conscience): Am I listening? It requires a dynamic commitment.