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Can you hear me now?

July 14, 2016
Father Charles Puthota

In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy, seeing a record of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony in Schroeder’s hands, asks him what he is going to do with it. Schroeder says he is going to take it home and listen to it. She asks him if he is going to dance or march to it. “No, I’m just going to sit and listen to it,” he replies. Lucy persists: “You mean you are going to whistle or sing to it?” Schroeder insists he is just going to listen to it. As he leaves, Lucy gazes at him in disbelief, exclaiming, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

Listening is hard for us. At times impossible. Being busy doing something is what everyone seems to want. With competing and conflicting voices within and without, coupled now with the so-called multitasking, just listening to someone or something deeply with undivided attention is not at all easy. The word of God calls us to just listen to God. He speaks: All we have to do is listen to him. Just hear his word.

There are other traditionally emphasized themes in the word of God this Sunday. One is of hospitality, shown by Mary and Martha to Jesus, placed alongside Abraham’s incredible hospitality as he entertains angels. A vital sign of Christian faith, hospitality is crucial for building up faith communities, evangelization, and stewardship. Reimagining the church for our times depends on our practice of the ministry of hospitality so that everyone is welcome and no one is a stranger. It consists not so much in words as in making everyone an essential and precious part of the community. Unless each one is welcomed with the inclusive and life-giving spirit of Jesus and made sharers of the treasures of the grace of God, we cannot revitalize the church, especially in these times when secularization is rampant and faith is pushed to the edges of life.

In the Gospel, there is the other theme of the dialectic between contemplation (Mary) and action (Martha); between faith and justice; between worship and service. With Martha as my mother’s name, I have forever been biased in favor of you-guessed-who. It is important for us as church to live out the charisms of union with God and service of fellow human beings. Endowed with varying emphases on these charisms, the church celebrates the dynamic journey from contemplation to action and vice versa. Faith necessarily flows into service and service brings us back to faith. Faith does justice, but justice leads us back to union with God.

However, the central theme in the Mary-Martha story is that we hear the word of God. Martha’s hospitality is impeccable. We no longer consider Martha as an overzealous or jealous woman. Jesus in Luke’s Gospel emphasizes that “listening to him speak” is vital for both worship and service. Similar emphasis is seen in other passages in Luke: Mary is blessed rather because she hears the word of God and keeps it (Luke 11:28) and anyone who hears God’s word and obeys it is Jesus’ mother and brother (Luke 8:21). In the other book Luke wrote, the Acts of the Apostles, deacons’ ministry originates in this concern: “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table” (Acts 6:2) so that the Apostles can “devote” themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Lukan Jesus’ vision is that the essential “service” of the church is to the word of God, out of which all ministries and missions will flow.

The invitation and challenge for us, therefore, is to hear God’s word in the Scriptures and the sacred traditions of the church, in history and in mystery, in prayer and in the signs of the times, and, ultimately, to hear Jesus himself, God’s own word. Let’s just listen to Jesus.

Father Puthota is pastor of St. Veronica Parish, South San Francisco, and director of the Department of Pastoral Ministry for the archdiocese.

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