This week we celebrated the joyous memorial of St. Benedict [July 11], Patriarch of Western Monasticism. And yet again here at Omaha, we got another stellar homily.
The homilist opened with the opening words of St. Benedict’s monastic Rule, Obsculta, o filii…et inclina aurem cordis tuis, “Listen, O sons…and incline the ears of your heart.”
He repeated the word, “Listen,” and then left us in a lengthy silence that was wonderfully disquieting.
He then went on to reflect on the virtue of listening attentively to others “with the ears of the heart.” The seminarians laughed heartily as he spoke of those who talk incessantly:
You know them. They love the sound of their own voice. They listen little, speak much, and even when they do listen it’s only to leave time to build up pressure that will gush into a new torrent of words. We live in a noisy culture. We have to be sound-saturated. We compulsively and thoughtlessly “hit send” with our opinions and thoughts. In a world where no one really listens, no one really loves. From compulsive noise grows a culture of anxiety and depression, isolation and pain-killing. Listening with the heart means entering another’s world, the world revealed by words and gestures. It means caring about what they say. Listening with the heart is hearing with love. And the harder it is to listen, the greater the love expressed. Listening has the power to cure, to shine light into darkness, to dispel the clouds of despondency, to raise the dead. You can also kill someone with a spear or a sneer. Dismiss someone into the grave. The one who is truly capable of listening is the one who first knows they’ve been heard; really heard. And in being heard, they know they’re loved. Children’s sense of self is shaped and defined by listening love, or misshaped and deformed by being shut out and ignored … The best are those who know prayer of the heart, who know that God hears their cry. God’s name is “the One who hears the cry.” Small children who are consistently neglected stop crying because they no longer believe they are heard. They die inside. But God hears us, and God loves to hear us.
He then recalled with deep emotion — his voice cracked a few times — the times as a boy when he would dry dishes with his grandfather in the kitchen after dinner. He remembered the way his grandfather would speak to him — the tone, the facial expressions. But above all he remembered that his grandfather would listen to him with rapt attention and great delight. He said:
Any parent who’s honest knows, listening to a seven year old child is not always the most interesting thing in the world. But it was there at the sink that I learned the inner unity of listening and loving. My grandfather would punctuate my stories and comments with “ooh,” “wow” and “is that right?” Thinking back on those conversations now, I re-experience God’s tender fatherly love for me … I would dare say to listen in love to another is among the highest forms of redeeming grace in this life. Even the Sacraments, if you think of it, are all Gifts given in response to our cry — “Father, send your Spirit” — by a God who responds. In the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit *is* a listening God’s answer to our cry for recognition and love. God responds to our heart’s outpourings by pouring Himself out on us. What a model of ministry, brothers…
After the homily, all I could pray were those 6 words:
Incline the ears of my heart.