Lent is for Listening

A series of Lenten Reflections on the subject of listening by Father Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington D.C.

Lent is for Listening

Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. 1Samuel 3:9

Lent is for listening. You see, God is wherever you are. A frightening thought if you're fleeing from God; a shot of adrenaline if you're looking for God. But you have to listen to God, let God talk. The Lord can talk to you in so many ways - not only when the words of Scripture are read to you, but through Beethoven and the Beatles, through nuclear threat and chemical waste, through AIDS victims and bag ladies, through friends whose caring reflects the compassion of Christ . . . But your ears must be open, attuned to God's whisper as well as God's thunder. Like the boy Samuel in the Old Testament, you have to say, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening" rather than "Speak, Lord, and Your servant will think it over."

Lent is for listening . . . I cannot promise it will be fun; I can promise it will be exciting. You may not live to be one hundred, but you will live each day "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4). Not a bad way to spend Lent; it sure beats giving up M & M's.

Do I take time out for silence?
What kind of a spiritual reading program do I have?
Do I try to meditate regularly on spiritual truths?


Listening to Others

So now, O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject. Proverbs 8:32-33

If you want to "do" something for Lent, if you want to share in the dying/rising of Jesus, rise above Oprah Winfrey and the Optifast diet. Simply listen. Listen to one another, listen to Jesus in the Proclaimed Word, listen to the Lord speaking through the things and people that surround you. For your Lenten penance, please listen!

. . . Begin by listening to one another, to the earthbound humans whose lives touch yours. Not easy. Most conversations are not conversations at all. Either they are monologues; I wait patiently till you have finished since civility demands it - and then I say exactly what I would have said if you had not spoken. Or they are debates; I do indeed listen, but only for that inept word or false phrase at which I proceed to intercept and destroy. No. To listen is to give yourself totally, for that moment or that hour, to another, to put yourself into the other's mind the other's heart. It means you hear not just naked words but a flesh-and-blood person.

What steps do I take to listen to what others are saying to me?
How do I keep myself open to the insights they may be revealing to me?


Jesus Speaks through the Scriptures

This is My beloved Son; listen to Him. Mark 9:7

Listen to Jesus. That was the Father's Command from the cloud: "Listen to Him!" Why? Because here is God's Revelation in flesh, the Word God speaks. How does Jesus speak to us now? Vatican II rings loud and clear: "Christ is present in His Word, since it is He Himself Who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the church." Do you believe that? Do you really believe "This is the Word of the Lord"? If you do, how do you listen? As breathlessly as Moses listened to the Lord on Sinai? Do you exclaim, as the two disciples exclaimed on the Road to Emmaus, "Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked to us He opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)

In what ways do I show respect for the Word of God?
Do I regularly read the Bible and meditate on in messages?


The Voices of God

Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes of Eternal Power and Divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made. Romans 1:20

Listen to the world around you. God speaks to you through the things He has shaped. For God could fashion nothing unless it imaged some Perfection of His. There is no blade of grass that does not speak of Him. The whirlwinds reflect His Power, the mountains mirror His Majesty, surging waves His Irresistibleness, a star-flecked sky His breath-taking Loveliness. If I miss their message, it is because I am not tuned into God, am not listening. God speaks to me through history, through human events. The cry of the blacks for freedom was a cry of God, "Let My people go!" From the ovens and gas chambers of Dachau, the God of Abraham is talking to a world that would like to forget it's inhumanity to Jewish men and women. From Appalachia to Calcutta, it is the voice of Jesus that begs for bread and human dignity. But I need Him to put His Fingers into my ears and murmur, "Be opened." (Matthew 7:33-34)

What do I do to better appreciate the mystery of life?
When did I last take time to observe the wonders of nature?
Do I try to listen to the voices of others who may be crying out for justice?


To Listen is to Reach Out

Bear one another's burdens. Galatians 6:2

To listen is to risk. It takes your precious time, often when you can least afford it. You take on other people's problems, when you have enough of your own. You must pay attention to folk less brilliant than you. If you're a good listener, people "dump" on you. If you listen, someone may fall in love with you - and that can be a burden you do not care to bear.

But the risk will be matched by a matchless joy. For listening, really listening, is an act of love; and so it is wonderfully human, splendidly Christian. I used to think, in my youthful arrogance, that what I had to offer the Catholic world was hatfuls of answers. No. Now I come to others as I am, with my own ignorance, weakness, sinfulness, my own fears and tears. I share not words but myself; I am there. And that, dear friends, is my Christian mission and yours: to be where another can reach out to us.

What should I do to make myself more accessible when others need me?
Is listening a ministry I might be called to do more frequently?