Practicing Lenten art of listening

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The diocese is in the homestretch of the listening sessions, 17 in all, a process that is providing the opportunity for many to gather, reflect, discuss and share their gratitude, aspirations and specific concerns and goals going forward.  For me it has been a blessing to participate in a supportive, yet subdued manner, that allows everyone the opportunity to speak, and to listen to one another.  Listening is occurring across the sessions as each participants listens to their own heart and mind, followed by discussion at table. The final step in the process is the sharing with the larger group, anywhere from 50 to 150, depending on the location. The input has been candid, respectful and hopeful for the life of the diocese, the Body of Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.
When we pause to reflect upon the daily rhythm and patterns of our lives there are boundless opportunities to have a listening session. Conversations with family members, the promptings of our own hearts, conversations with God in prayer, listening to the sounds of nature with Spring’s arrival, most evident in the early morning sounds of the birds.
If only we have eyes to see, and ears to hear, as Jesus encouraged his disciples. We have all heard the old adage that God created us with two ears and one mouth in order that we might do twice as much listening as speaking. This is not easy to accomplish when we are in a compulsive talking mode.
We can apply this to prayer, our conversations with God, by recalling the works of Jesus to his disciples during the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel.  “When praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father …”(Matthew 6,7-9). The Lord’s prayer is so substantial, yet so succinct, and the words are those of Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. Speaking and quiet listening in order to discern and to act with greater confidence, are the hallmarks of our conversations with God. Remember, God gave us two ears for the sake of hearing his words and putting them into practice.
This is also true for the Church, the Body of Christ, during the season of Lent. It is intended to be a listening session each time the Word of God is proclaimed at Mass on the Lord’s day, and the gospels throughout this season of new life are replete with the words, wisdom and compassion of Jesus Christ. In the hostile encounter between Jesus and the devil on the first Sunday of Lent we hear: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, And, you shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve, And, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. Our prayer and fasting during these forty days beckon us to sharpen our awareness about the useless idols of this life when compared to the inestimable worth of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.
On the second Sunday in Lent we proclaimed the mystical moment on Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James and John with Moses and Elijah caught up in the vision. The law and the prophets, the pillars of the Israel’s journey of salvation, are now fulfilled in Jesus. And what is most important about all of this? The words emblazoned in the memories of Peter, James, and John are given to the Church for all time. “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” (Luke 9,35). What a listening session that was for the three apostles who were privileged to glimpse the mystery of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. In his second letter later on in the New Testament, Peter speaks of the grace to be attentive, to listen to what God is doing in our lives. We ourselves heard his voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message which is altogether reliable. “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts” (2Peter 1, 18-19).
Hearing God’s Word, being attentive to it, and putting it into practice is the dawn of new life every day.  During this Jubilee Year of Mercy we recall that the mercies of the Lord are never exhausted, they are renewed each day. Last Sunday’s gospel assures us that the Lord’s love for us is eternal, at work in the soil of our lives, insisting that we repent and believe in the Gospel so that his merciful love will renew the face of the earth. As individuals, families, parish communities, and diocese, may the Lord open our ears to hear his words, and our mouths to proclaim his praises, and our wills to put them into practice.