Teach me to Listen – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Like most people who read the Gospels, I have a few favourite verses. My all-time favourite regarding ministry comes up in today’s Gospel reading: When he went ashore, Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them. That’s Matthew’s version.
In Mark’s Gospel, we also hear that Jesus’ compassion is because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The account is immediately preceded by the beheading of John the Baptist.
What always strikes me is the fact that Herod, who admires John, agrees to the beheading of John, in order to keep his word to his guests. I usually offer Mark 6:14-44 to people making the Spiritual Exercises and praying with the famous Ignatian exercise of the Two Standards.
The beheading of John shows the operations of the standard of the Evil One: Herod will do what he doesn’t want, in order to save face. The compassion of Jesus shows the motivation of Christ: availability to the person in need.
My life experience tells me that this is the heart of ministry as a Christian. I’m not restricting ministry to what an ordained minister does with her or his time, but, rather, to the ministry that all of us share, through our baptism in Christ.
In other words, how am I called to be present to another human being? I’ve always liked the phrase about the ministry of the kitchen table. That’s what happens when friends gather. Is that ministry? Of course!
Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus cure the sick and invite his disciples to give them something to eat. Jesus is inviting each one of us to give something to those in need.
Yes, it may be a need for actual food or drink, a need for money or support. But the primary need is far simpler, something we can all offer – the gift of listening.
I have used this verse from Fr. John Veltri, S.J. before, but it never hurts to repeat it. It’s from his prayer/poem, Teach Me to Listen.
Teach me to listen, O God,
to those nearest me,
my family, my friends, my co-workers.
Help me to be aware that
no matter what words I hear,
the message is,
Accept the person I am. Listen to me.
Quite often in recent months I have found myself using the lines of a poem over and over in my ongoing dialogue with self. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs … That’s from Rudyard Kipling’s If: A Father’s Advice to His Son.
And there are times when the line running on a loop inside my head is the famous prayer from Saint Teresa of Avila,
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
The occasions that bring those lines to my heart are usually connected with the myriad effects on our lives of the global pandemic, which shows no hurry to rush away, despite the naïve hopes of many people.
The pandemic has had a definite impact on my community life, as I am sure that it has for any experience of human beings trying to live and work together. The lines come to mind when I realize that I’m in danger of getting caught in frantic situations.
Patience and listening. What graces they are!