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Learning to Listen

Entrance Antiphon: Dn 3:31, 29, 30, 43, 42 — “All that You have done to us, O Lord, You have done with true judgment, for we have sinned against You and not obeyed Your commandments. But give glory to Your name and deal with us according to the bounty of Your mercy.”

First Reading: Am 6:1a, 4-7 — “Their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 — “Praise the Lord, my soul!”

Second Reading: 1 Tm 6:11-16 — “Keep the commandment until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Alleluia: 2 Cor 8:9 — Alleluia, alleluia. “Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, He became poor, so that by His poverty, you might become rich.” Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: Lk 16:19-31 — “You received what was good, Lazarus what was bad; now he is comforted, whereas you are tormented.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 119(118):49-50 — “Remember Your word to Your servant, O Lord, by which You have given me hope. This is my comfort when I am brought low.”

I recently read about a study that was done a few years ago on human awareness. It began by interviewing people living below a large dam ... one that holds back millions of tons of water. People were asked about their level of concern and about their safety living below this huge dam. People living several miles below the dam had only minimal concern for their safety, and, as you might expect, the level of concern increased in people living closer and closer to the dam. Then something very interesting happened. The people who lived directly below the dam expressed no concern whatsoever about their safety! Think about it. When a problem is overwhelmingly large, like a huge dam right there next to us, we block it out. We cannot see it or hear it. I was again reminded of the old adage that states that sometimes, in situations like that, you can’t see the forest from the trees.

In our First Reading today, Amos tells us that wealth and comfortable living have consequences, and one of those consequences is to close us off, to isolate us. As I stated last week, Amos is the prophet of social justice who calls us to solidarity with others. In the Gospel, Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the wealthy man says that there is an urgent need for us to listen now ... today. To overcome our deafness, we need to live a life that allows us to listen.

Jesus said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Jesus tells this story about someone who was not listening simply because He could see the people around Him were doing just that ... not listening. Jesus, the great teacher, tries to get their attention with vivid details of the personal cost of isolation from others. But Jesus realizes that, if people haven’t been listening to others like Moses and the prophets, then they may not listen to Him either, even if He is raised from the dead.

How we spend our time is the key to becoming a better listener. Listening takes time ... the most important thing we have to give. We’ve heard a lot about time and stewardship in the readings over the past week or so ... but first we need to give listening the time it deserves. It takes time even to prepare to listen ... time to set aside all of the things we think we already know. As Saint Francis of Assisi told us, “It takes time to ‘seek to understand’” ... time to come to grips with another person’s reality. It takes time to evaluate the new, and reorder ourselves to what we have heard.

Owning too many things or being over-involved isolates us and puts us at a double disadvantage ... because those many things become our only focus and unfortunately when we try to hyper-multi-task ... our focus becomes so diffuse that it becomes the source of our deafness. A focus on too many things is never enough. We know this because many people who have a lot never seem to have enough ... they want even more. Sometimes, I think people who have less than us can seem to be of less interest, even less deserving, and we turn off our ability to hear them. We can be sure that Jesus was aware of how difficult it is for people with many things to listen well. Those who heard His message first were typically the simple and the marginalized. People who are able to simplify their lives or people who don’t clutter their lives with stuff become better listeners.

It takes courage to listen, but we can become more courageous listeners by listening in small steps. If the evening news is just too much, turn it off. If the morning paper gives your day an ugly start, don’t read it. But don’t try to go it alone. Listening sometimes takes two or perhaps even a whole community. Listening together reduces fear and improves our hearing. Begin by listening better to those closest to you. Be attentive to the small courtesies that can mean so much. Celebrate even small steps to becoming a listener. Celebrate the joy that comes from seeking to understand.

We are called to live in ways that allow us to listen. Listening to Jesus and to those around us will then guide us to life. We have been invited this Sunday morning (evening) to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. It is an invitation to hear His message, and ultimately to hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus and really pay attention to the wake-up call it is sending each one of us ... learn to listen ... before it is too late.

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