Monday, January 15, 2018

To whom do we listen

In today’s first reading we see the end of the reign of Saul approaching. Samuel points to a lack of two things. In one translation they are referred to as obedience and submission. In Hebrew they are both words that refer to the activity of listening. The second kashab refers to actively trying to hear, turning yours ears toward the sound, the way we lean in to a conversation in a noisy place. The first word shamah refers to the act of listening with intelligence. 

We live constantly surrounded by the sound of more voices than we can count, not just “social media” that we now want to blame for all the world’s ills, but the voices of our peers, friends, family, those we wish to please, as well as the interior voices of our feelings, and the wee small voice of our conscience.  

When we sin, it is not just that we have chosen not to listen to our conscience, instead we have actively chosen to listen attentively to another voice. We have turned our ears away from God and toward another voice, a voice that always has a beautiful rationalization for the sin we choose to commit. 

Today in the United States we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was, like all of us, a flawed human being. His greatness was that, in the critical moments of life, his hearing had been honed from years of practice to find, amidst the noise, the quiet voice of God, and to choose to listen intelligently to that voice even when it endangered his life. 

Can we name the voices that speak to us? Can we identify the voice of of our passions like ambition, lust, or selfishness? Do we have the courage to turn away from the voice of our friends when they urge us in the wrong direction? Can we recognize the voice of our conscience amid all the noise?

As human beings we have a God-given freedom to choose and whether we are aware of it or not we are constantly choosing one voice over another. The challenge of Christian living is to develop the habit of identifying the voice of God and choosing to lean toward and listen intelligently to that one voice. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Needing others

Of the four gospel writers St. John may be the one who is least concerned with writing history as we in the modern world think of it. He is always writing theology, telling us about God, humanity, and the relationships among them. 

In both the first reading and the gospel we have stories of calls, the call of Samuel in the first reading and the call of the Apostles in the second. In neither  story are those called able to recognize and respond to the call of God on their own. In the stories of Samuel, he needs the help of Eli. In John’s version of the call of the Apostles, John the Baptist points two of his apostles to Jesus, and one of the two, Andrew, goes and gets his brother Simon (Peter).  

These stories remind us that God created human beings to be social, and the Church to be communal. Yes, there is always a very personal dimension to faith, but true Christian faith is never individual. This is the truth behind the often misrepresented phrase “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”  Human beings are created to be in relationship with God and with one another. We need one another.

These readings also challenge each of us to examine our words and actions and ask, “Do my words and actions draw others to Christ?” We are all called to be Eli, to be John and Andrew.   Not just in exceptional moments but in the everyday, people should find in us an attractive example.  And we should be constantly looking for opportunities to help those around us recognize the action of God in their lives. 

Samuel needed Eli, Andrew needed John, Simon needed Andrew. It’s really very simple. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Providential Encouneters

A significant part of every life is spent not doing things that interest us or even things we want to do, but rather doing things that simply need to be done. As we continue reading from the First Book of Samuel we encounter Saul whose father is Kish whose asses have wandered off. Saul is told to take some servants and go look for the animals. 

Did they wander off in different directions? Did they wander off in a group? Which way did they go? Who knows. But Saul, as any obedient son would, goes off and searches unsuccessfully for the animals. But in the midst of the boring and fruitless search he has heard there is a seer in the area and decide to consult him. Then by what would appear to be conincidence he runs into Samuel. 

How many times during the course of our day do we simply cross paths with other people, not family, friends or coworkers that we are intending to talk to but the chance encounter? How do we engage with that person?

Our American tendency is to offer the polite “Hi, how ya doing?” and keep moving as quickly as possible. Particularly when we are working we can get frustrated by anything or anyone we classify as an interruption. 

Some would tells us to see Jesus in them. But I wonder if that isn’t too abstract and misses the point. Rather than looking for Jesus in them wouldn’t it be easier just to remember the second of the two great commandments and love the person in front of us whoever they are. Suddenly, that’s not an interruption, it’s a person, a person who deserves our attention. 

Yes, we may need to limit the length of calls and other interactions, but even when the time is short we should be able to truly be attentive to the other person, to listen, to care, to not be dismissive. 

As far as Saul knew,  he was out there looking for his father’s asses. From God’s perspective he was out there for a very different reason, to meet Samuel the man who would change his life. We can never know which chance encounter is actually, providentially part of God’s larger plan.