Fifteenth Sunday Ordinary Time

Hearing and Listening

Many times I have told people how my mother used to hold our ears as she poses the question: “Are your ears for decoration or for hearing?” My sister and I always replied that they are given to us for hearing. Then comes the question that needs no answer: “Then, why are you not doing what I ask you to do?” Each time she asks this question, there is silence from my sister and I. The reason for the silence is because we really have no reason to offer. We hear what she says, but for some reason, we do not listen because if we listened well, it would translate into action, so that the whole process of hearing would be complete. I have reflected on this interaction with my mother many times, and many times, too, I have reminded myself that my ears are not simply for hearing but also for listening, so that I can penetrate through the words to the meaning being communicated, and find the courage to act upon them.

I am sure many parents feel the same frustration that my mother felt in raising us. Many times children do not hear and when they hear they do not always listen. But it is not only parents; teachers and other persons in positions of leadership feel the frustration sometimes. God feels the same frustration. In His dealings with the people of Israel, God, through the prophets, recalled to the people the miracles performed on their behalf in the past years. At a point, Moses became so frustrated that he gave out to the people: “Be in fact sure, then, that it is not for any goodness of yours that God gives you this rich land to possess, for you are a headstrong people” (Deut. 9:6). Moses is reminding them how difficult they are; that is, how they hear but never listen to what the Lord is saying to them. But the Lord overlooks their stubbornness and still loves them. Speaking to the Israelites in Exile, the prophet Isaiah emphatically called out to them: “Listen to me, you who are stubborn and far from righteousness” (Is. 46:12), because it is their inability to listen that led them to exile!

We hear in order to listen. Listening involves paying attention not just to the words but also to the meaning of the words as well as the nonverbal aspects of speaking. When someone listens, it means she wants to grasp, to understand what is being said or communicated. God speaks in various ways to each of us. Listening therefore entails attentiveness to the many nuances of divine communication to us. Some come very clearly through the Word of God in the scriptures and in the teachings of the Church; others come through the proclamation of the Word; others come through the many events and persons it pleases the Almighty to let us encounter. When we listen and act on what we understood from listening, our hearing and listening bear fruit through our action.

This is the whole sense of the parable of the sower; it is not complicated. Jesus is the most simple and realistic teacher that has ever walked this earth. The Word of God, which comes to us every day and in many ways, bears fruit or dies according to our inner dispositions. All He is asking is for us to listen more; be more attentive and realize that He speaks to us all the time. May we ask for the grace not only to hear but, more so, to listen to God’s Word spoken to us every day of our lives. Amen