Listening to each other
Today’s Scriptures point out the crucial virtue of obedience. Jesus was transfigured before them, and a voice from heaven said: “This is my beloved son.Listen to him.” God says, if you love me, you will listen to me. And if you listen to me with your heart, you will obey me.
How do you feel when you’re talking about something important with a friend and you realize … they have not been listening? You’re talking on the phone and your get the feeling that your friend on the other end has been checking his Facebook page while you’re talking. The other day my mother was talking to me on the phone and I wasn’t listening to her. At one point she asked me a question and … there was this pause. “What did you say, Mom?”
“Joe,” my mother said, “were you listening to me?”
Listening is love. We all know how it feels to be really listened to, and we all know how it feels to be ignored. And when the person we are listening to is an authority, listening means obedience. God is our ultimate authority—he is never wrong, and never asks of us anything that would harm us—so listening to God means obeying Him absolutely. “This is my beloved son—listen to him.” That means, obey Him with dedicated trust.
We have the fearful story of Abraham and Isaac in the first reading. God had promised Abraham a son, and Abraham waited twenty years to see that promise fulfilled. His wife Sarah finally bore Isaac and he became the beloved child of his parents’ old age. When Isaac is about 8 years old, God tests Abraham’s obedience by asking him to slaughter his own son. God seems cruel, even sadistic. If it were anyone else, we could not trust him. But we can trust God. We can obey him without fear. Abraham makes ready to kill his own son.
The Virtue of Obedience
Abraham listens to God. God asks us to listen and trust His Son, Jesus Christ, even when it seems impossible. But we find it hard. In Spanish, kids often say this in the confessional: “no escuche’ a mis padres.” I did not listen to my parents. They don’t just mean that they ignored their parents, but that they disobeyed them. The word “Obey” in Latin, “obedire,” simply means to “listen carefully.” This is my beloved son. Listen carefully to him. Obey him, even when he asks something extraordinary of you.
We are constantly told, in our culture, that “choice” is important. “Keep your options open.” “You have many choices.” You want to sell any product, call it a “choice” product. But once we know that something is God’s will, we have only one choice, not many choices. Our one choice is to obey his commandment, to follow him carefully. Love is listening; love is obedience. Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Jesus speaks through his Church
Jesus Christ speaks through the Church he founded 2000 years ago. Are we Catholics listening to Him? We are, but we could all do better. It is not easy to listen attentively every day to his voice in the Church, especially when Satan throws ten thousand conflicting voices at us through every conceivable form of social media. For example, God commands us to keep holy the Sabbath—to attend Mass every Sunday. But how many of us do that? I wonder how many high profile Catholics, the “Catholic” politicians and media stars, who presume to speak for the Church, keep this basic commandment. God commands us to tithe, but how many of us make a serious attempt to do that? God commands us to be fruitful and multiply, to have children, and to plan our families naturally, without artificially sterilizing our marital relations. How many of us obey this clear and constant teaching of Jesus Christ? On this issue of artificial contraception, which is so much in the news these days, our disobedience on this one point has led to manifold social problems, from broken families and social disintegration to economic depression. Many Catholics laugh when I say contraception is the root of most of our social and even economic problems. But the fact is, we Catholics have disobeyed Christ on this issue for two generations, and we are seeing the prophecies of Pope Paul VI realized. For forty years we have shut our ears to the clear teaching of Christ through his Church.
It is hard to listen to God, and to God’s servants, be they popes, priests, or simply our own parents. But it is harder, in the long run, not to listen. To listen well, we need to pray. So I beg you to obey God in the first and most fundamental of all his commandments: keep holy the Sabbath. Mass every Sunday. Consistent participation in the most perfect prayer, the Mass, will keep us from going completely off the rails. Let us pray to our Holy Mother, Blessed Mary, to keep us faithful to the Mass, and faithful to Christ her son.