Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The thought came to me… If you hate yourself, you’re off the hook.
Well, Jesus knew that most people don’t hate themselves. At least they love themselves enough to desire health, safety, justice, and happiness. So we are to strive to love others and wish them health, safety, justice and happiness.
There have been millions of words spoken or written about the topic of love. What came to my mind are the words of the theologian, Paul Tillich. “The first duty of love is to listen.”
How well do we listen? On a scale of one to ten, where would we place ourself as a listener. I suspect most of us would place ourselves around a seven or eight. Some room for improvement.
If we asked our family or friends where they would place us on the scale, it might be a little lower.
I think Ernest Hemmingway would give us a one. He said, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Carl Rogers would probably give us a one. He said, “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy.”
Remember the song, the Sound of Silence? Many people resonated to the line, “People hearing without listening.” That’s a one.
There is a book titled, You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen. In the nineties, it spent almost four years on the New York Times bestseller list. The book hit a nerve on hearing without understanding.
Maybe we do need to examine just how well we listen. It is a learned skill. It takes work. But it is worth the effort since it is the first duty of love.
Many of you have heard my standard Lenten homily about abstinence. During Lent many people abstain from candy, movies, deserts. I say that’s too easy. I suggest abstaining from the use of the word “I”. Cut it in half. Instead, use the phrase, “Tell me more? Or “What do you mean?” “Go on.”
Listening is a good Lenten practice because it requires a death to self. Putting the self aside for a while and giving the gift of attention to another can require great sacrifice.
Listening is also good advice for someone looking for a spouse. Brendan Francis said, “A man is already half way in love with any woman who will listen to him.” And I am sure that works both ways.
If the first duty of love of neighbor is to listen, maybe the first step in expressing our love for God is to listen to him. Think about that for a moment. In prayer we often spend a lot of time talking, placing before God our needs, (which he already knows) or we tell him what we are grateful for (which he also already knows). How much time do we spend listening?
Here at Mass we listen to God in the Scriptures and homily. Perhaps during the day we listen by centering prayer, or the practice of lectio divina, or just slowly pondering a word or phrase of Scripture.
Besides Scripture, God speaks to us through nature. George Washington Carver said, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we only will tune in.”
God speaks to us through our talents and the cries of the poor. God speaks to us through our hopes and dreams, as well as our failures and frustrations. God speaks to us through beauty and truth. Aristotle remarked, “Beauty is the gift of God.” And it is all around us. We can listen with our eyes.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tell us to, “Pray without ceasing.” We picture people feverously trying to get in rosaries, novenas, and other devotions in order to at least pray a lot. Prayer is conversation with God. Maybe what Paul had in mind was quieting ourselves and paying attention to what God is saying. We have so much to learn.
In today’s gospel Jesus saw that the young man (quote)“answered with understanding.” The young man paid attention and heard. And Jesus praised him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
So let this be our prayer today. With Samuel. Let we pray, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”(1 Samuel 3:10).
By listening, we are loving you, loving ourselves and by an attentive heart, loving our neighbor. Everybody wins.