I had the opportunity to go to Mass out at St. Joseph's in Addison. IL last weekend, and the homily was really touching. The pastor emeritus, Father Tim, recounted a story of how he was flying out to see family out west and was seated in a row with a woman who as he was reading his golf magazine started up a conversation with him although he only wanted to read his magazine and relax. He was dressed casually not in clerical garb. The woman asked what he did for a living and when he mentioned he was a Catholic priest, she couldn't believe it. After he reassured her that he was, she told him she had once been Catholic but was not anymore. He cringed thinking that he would now have to go into a long conversation to defend the faith and not get to read his magazine. She told him of why she left after a bad experience about 10 years previously where she made an appointment with the priest in her parish to discuss a marital problem. The priest was late and was interrupted by phone calls the entire time she tried to explain her dilemma. Finally he was called away for something else and he apologized and showed her out telling her have a nice day. She was so hurt she never went back to church. Father Tim now realized that he would never get back to that golf magazine. They had about an hour and half left to their flight. He turned to her and said we have 90 mins left and I'm here to listen. The woman elated recounted a troubled and pain-filled past through tears that rolled down her cheeks. As the plane landed and they began to leave, she composed herself and told him to take care and enjoy California. As they went out on the concourse at the airport she walked ahead of him stopped and waved back to him. They went down to the luggage claim area. She got hers first and then walked away stopped and waved to him. She walked a bit further stopped and waved to him again. He did not see her any longer. His luggage was taking longer than usual so he remained. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder and it was the same woman. She came back to thank him and to let him know that he had been the first person in ten years to listen to her tell that troubling story. It had been a grace filled moment. She left him relieved and comforted, knowing some peace. He knew he had done the right thing to not finish his golf magazine.
Today's readings deal a lot with listening. Sacred Scripture tells us of how God is a good listener, and how He helps others to be good listeners. Nine years ago, Brian Sieve, a new theology teacher at St. Benedict Prep, thought to revamp how we began our prayer each day in the Secondary School. He added an introductory line before the sign of the cross coming from the opening page of the Rule of St. Benedict: "Listen with the ears of your heart." This short phrase describes the disposition that we need to be in before coming to God in prayer. It is this characteristic of Benedictine spirituality that being receptive or open is emphasized before the mention of being active. For St. Benedict each of us is essentially a "hearer of the Word." Listening, as St. Benedict would later elaborate in his Rule, is the fundamental attitude from which all other attitudes flow. Listening leads to obedience; silence, listening is humility; yet listening is equally indispensable for the communal life in or out of the monastery. Without listening we cannot treat one another with respect, nor obey one another; we cannot do what is useful for the other nor show each other pure fraternal love. Today this line of thought would have to be further expanded: to have the ear of our heart on the pulse of the world, incline it toward the cries of those in need around the world as a complement to our listening to the Lord!
Learning more from St. Benedict is the goal of our Agora seminar series that begins next week in our secondary school. I have the privilege along with Ms. Deady and Mrs. Hybinette to lead the series connected with the HS trip to Italy: In the Footsteps of St. Benedict. Those students who are hoping to go to Italy this spring take will participate in the year-long seminar which meets twice a month. Our first lesson will be on the early life of St. Benedict and how he became a hermit in 6th century southern Italy. We see a person who is surrounded by all the noise of an immoral world as a young man and student in Rome after the collapse of the Roman Empire. He withdraws to the quiet of the cave at Subiaco as a hermit. In the quiet of the silence, Benedict listens to his calling by God and creates the Benedictine community model based on his Rule. This would be the beginnings of Western Monasticism which would prove to be a stabilizing force for good in society beginning in the Dark Ages. This seminar series will help our students prepare for the wonderful experience they will have during the 10 day trip to Italy. For that experience, we are working on coordinating opportunities to spend time with the Benedictine monks at each stop: Monte Cassino, Subiaco, and Norcia. St. Benedict had to answer the question posed to the Apostles in the Gospel in his own day and time. We know how he responded and provides a guide for us to this day. Today Jesus continues to ask us: Who do I say Jesus is? Who is he to me? Is he simply a man that lived over 2,000 years ago? Or is Jesus real to me? We are called to listen to the Word and ask ourselves: How does Jesus and His example of self-sacrificing love, affect my daily choices and actions? Is the impact significant? Or is it minor? Answering Jesus’ question may clarify for us who Jesus is for us today! Hopefully we will reiterate St. Peter’s response: “You are the Christ.”