On Listening and Hearing

At every liturgy we listen to the Gospel, to the words of Christ Himself, or of His disciples, and we are faced with the question — how do we listen and what do we hear?

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

There are certain passages in the Gospels which contain a serious warning for us. Several times Christ says, “He who has ears, let him hear” — be careful how you listen. In another place He reminds us that we shall answer for what we have heard, how we have listened, how we have reacted and what we have made of it in life. There are millions of people, and throughout the history of the Church there have been millions who would have given much to hear a fraction of what we hear constantly and repeatedly.

At every liturgy we listen to the Gospel, to the words of Christ Himself, or of His disciples, and we are faced with the question — how do we listen and what do we hear? Perhaps we listen attentively, our hearts may even be stirred, for a moment we may be inspired, but then, having admired the beauty and wisdom of Christ’s sayings, we may leave the church and not put them into practice. We may, on the other hand, retain these words in our memory and repeat them to others, admire their good sense, but still remain unfruitful. Our words, the words of Christ through us, may even reach their target, may perhaps touch another person’s heart but miss our own. They may leave our will unmoved, our life unchanged.

Sometimes, however, a word strikes at the heart and kindles a flame that gives heat and light not only for ourselves but for others. Christ says that when someone lights a lamp he does not cover it with a bushel nor lay it aside where it is unseen, but on the contrary, puts it on a stand so that it can shine for all who come to the house. Are we capable of listening to Christ’s words in this way? Are we capable of hearing them, receiving them in our hearts, making an effort of will and incorporating them into our lives? Or are we not? Therefore Christ warns us to take care how we listen and how we care, because a time will come when the words we have heard will judge us — not because we have heard the word of truth, God’s word, but because having responded to it as truth and beauty and inspiration and having admired it we have put it aside in order to attend to it sometime later, at leisure. And that is exactly how such words become the empty, inert words of which our lives are so full. And we shall answer for them. Let us then listen to the words of the Gospel, even to the words of a sermon, in such a way that they should penetrate not only our minds and hearts but our whole lives, so that what we have heard may become living, that through us someone may see the light of Christ’s light, may feel the warmth of Christ’s love, and everything be renewed around us because we have felt the renewal of the life of Christ.

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