Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 9, 2018)

I read a press release on the anniversary of the “Common Ground Initiative.” The saintly, down-to-earth late archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, began this movement. He saw the turmoil in our church: the right vs. the left, conservatives v progressives and called us all to look not upon how we differ, but upon what we have in common. He calls us to build upon what unites us. Hence, the common ground initiative. I could not agree more. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” says Jesus. The power of positive relationship unites.

In line with Jesus’ cure of the deaf man in the gospel, I would like to speak a bit about relationship and spiritual deafness. Communication is absolutely necessary in relationship -- divine or human. Communication is the very life-blood of relationship. Listening is the essential partner in communicating. If someone is deaf to the other, communication stops. Eventually, relationship weakens and possibly dies. We know this from our experience.

So often, the fear, suspicion and anger found in our society creeps into our church. Deep and persistent distrust of persons, motives and viewpoints exists in the Catholic Church: between old and young, laity and clergy, rich and poor, scholars and bishops. Our American pluralism is all too often a source of divisiveness rather than richness. Some people, unfortunately, are simply not interested in conversing with someone with differing opinions. That is sad. We are familiar with the saying: no one is so blind as one who will not see; I think we can safely say, “No one is so deaf as one who will not listen.”

The initiative’s efforts are to get people back communicating with one another - not as correctors, not as mediators, but recalling all that we are all members of the family of Christ and need to talk to one another, to listen to one another. We would improve the quality of our communication and the level of relationship.

I applaud a keynoter’s words: “listening is the necessary foundation for relationships with god and one another. Real listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person; it establishes lasting relationships; it gives substance to words of love and friendship; it heals and allows us to grow in our knowledge of ourselves, others, and of God.” He recognizes all three aspects of our relationships: God - others - self.

We gather each week at Eucharist and speak with our Lord. Do we also listen to god’s word attentively in the readings? Do we listen to our Lord during quiet time after communion, or do we go on about our needs?

Today’s Gospel is helpful. We need to do what the deaf man did: seek out Jesus. Go off with him, away from the crowd. . . Spend time in his healing presence . . .give Jesus a chance to touch our hearts . . . Give Jesus the chance to put his finger in our ears by our being present to him and opening our ears to his word.

In the gathering space after mass, do we listen to one another? Or, do we generally gather only with our friends? A clique is not community. Do we meet and engage folks we do not yet know?

Hearing is a physical sense of our body. Listening is a learned skill. If we hear something affirming about ourselves, we tend to listen eagerly. If we hear criticism, do we react with a knee-jerk of denial? Or, do we listen in silence and slowly and honestly evaluate the criticism?

Let’s listen up!