Sunday, May 15, 2011


Acts 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 2:20b-25 John 10:1-10

Pat Livingston was spending an afternoon
with her four-year-old niece Claire.
Claire introduced Aunt Pat to all her stuffed animals and dolls.
She called each by name and described just when each one was born.
She told what each one had done,
times when they had been good and
times when she had to spank them.
She even pointed out the ones who never went to bed on time.

The next day, while Pat was at her home,
she received a call from her sister, Claire’s mother.
She said that Claire had drawn a picture
with four stick figure persons.
In one of the stick figures
there was a small circle on each side of its head.
Claire said that the four figures were her mother,
her father, her older brother and Aunt Pat.
The one with the extra circles was Aunt Pat.
Claire’s mother asked,
“What are those circles on either side of Aunt Pat’s head?”
Claire responded, “They’re ears. Aunt Pat really listens.
That makes me feel special.”


A thread I found woven through each of today’s readings
is “listening.”
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles
the people heard Peter say,
“Jesus, whom you crucified, is the Lord and the Messiah.”
The people must have listened, because their response was,
“What are we to do?”
Then Peter told them to repent and to be baptized,
to save themselves from this corrupt generation.
Many listened, accepted the message, and were baptized.

In the letter of the second reading,
Peter told those who where listening
that they were called to suffer for doing what is good.
When he further explained
that Jesus had suffered for the good of our salvation,
some who heard this and had gone astray
returned to the Lord, the Shepherd,
the Guardian of their souls.

And in a similar vein,
Jesus talked about the sheep following the shepherd
because they recognized his voice, listened and followed.
Three clear instances in sacred scripture
where the importance of listening is recorded.


We don’t know how Claire could tell that Aunt Pat was listening.
Possibly Aunt Pat nodded her head periodically.
Maybe Aunt Pat asked a question here or there.
Maybe she repeated back to Claire
a few things that Claire said.
These types of actvities, nodding, asking and repeating
can be the immediate indicators of good listening.
Somehow Claire just knew that Aunt Pat was listening.

In each of the instances from sacred scripture,
the listening was made evident by a response,
an action taken by the one listening.
In the first reading, the listeners asked a question:
“What should we do?”
The response was “Repent and be baptized.” and many did that.
Some returned to the Lord
when they listened in Peter’s letter
to his explanation of how Jesus suffered and died for us.
In the Gospel, Jesus says that we can follow him
only if we recognize his voice, listen to him and follow him.
The indicator of true listening seems to be is the action that results.

When Tena and I are working with a couple
preparing for marriage,
we use an assessment method called FOCCUS.
In that assessment,
each member of the couple is asked to agree or disagree
with a large number of statements
that cover a wide variety of issues.
One statement goes something like this
“My future spouse is a good listener.”
Of course in the ideal couple preparing for the ideal marriage
both parties should agree with that statement.
But we are real fallible people in real relationships.
When Tena and I find that one party, or both parties, of the couple
are in disagreement with this statement,
we usually ask what the evidence is
that the other person is not a good listener.
It’s usually some behavior that involves no action, no response.
“He doesn’t say anything when I want to talk.”
OR “She just clams up, when I want to clear the air.”
The evidence for the listening comes in the response,
the action that follows.

So, today we might at first blush be prompted to ask ourselves,
“What evidence is there that I listen to my spouse,
to my friends, to my children, to my parents?
How do my actions indicate that I have truly listened?”

But God’s message should take us deeper than that:
“What have I done lately that indicates
that I have listened to God,
the creator and provider of all?
What actions have I taken
as a result of my listening to Jesus’ words in scripture?
How have I responded to what I have heard
as the promptings of the Holy Spirit?”
This is what I have found as the focus of today’s readings.


In the first reading it was God’s call to be baptized and to repent.
We have been baptized,
but have we then really listened to our baptismal call
and lived out that call.
Are we working to make the lives of our children or our parents
more holy, or have we just left that as God’s work.
Have we helped those around us in the work place
to learn more about God by our example,
or have we just gone along with the crowd
leaving the spiritual development of others as God’s work?
Have we reached out to our needy neighbors as Jesus did,
or have we just left that to others with more money
and what we might consider more expertise.?
By our Baptism, we are qualified to step in for the Shepherd,
to be the shepherd for others.
We may have heard the message, but have we responded?
Have we truly repented of our sins;
have we heard the message of forgiveness
and taken the action of coming to the Lord
in the sacrament of penance to seek forgiveness?
If we haven’t, then we have not been listening.
After all, how could anyone
who has heard the message of unconditional forgiveness
not act on it?

Have we heard Jesus’ call to do what is good,
even though it may require our suffering?
Yes Jesus calls us as he called those around him
while he was here on earth.
Just hearing the voice of Jesus can be easy;
the apostles experienced it first-hand.
It’s the follow-up that is hard.
Even though the apostles heard the message first hand,
all but John deserted him
in the violence of his passion and death.
What evidence is there
that we have actually heard the message
and made the commitment to stand by Jesus
in those suffering around us?

The bottom line is:
Have we heard the voice of our Shepherd and followed him?
Or are we letting the voice of Jesus go in one ear
and out the other while we actually hear
and follow the voices of strangers
- strangers like
anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony?
It is more that just listening with our ears,
taking in information and storing it away in our brain.
It’s listening with our heart so that we can be changed,
so that we are prompted to take action accordingly.

So I wonder, how would Jesus draw a picture of us?
Would he put those circles on either side of our heads?
Would he see us “with our ears on?”
Would he be able to say
“Oh, those people in the drawing,
they are the flock from Mass at the Cathedral,
and they really listen
to the message of the Good Shepherd?”
Would Jesus continue by saying,
“I know that they really listen,
NOT because they nod in agreement a lot
NOT because they repeat the message back to me
NOT because they question the message,
but because they take the message to heart
and act accordingly?”
Like Claire, Jesus really feels special when we really listen.