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Are You Listening?

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By Fr. Raymond Cotter
Pastor, Jesus the Good Shepherd, Atlanta;St. Augustine , Hillman; St. Francis of Assisi, Lewiston; St. Mary, Mio

Lent should be a time when we come clean – honest -- about ourselves. I’ll start. Listening and memory are not my strongest suits. Input, output, is my diminished duo. I had a significant exception when I met Anna forty years ago. Exact words can be recalled and I hold a memory of a rare gift shared with me alone.

However, before sharing more about Anna, let’s first look at listening and memory -- indeed truth -- found in this weekend’s scripture. The Transfiguration engages Peter in his frequent exuberance for getting things wrong. It is our good fortune that the voice of the Father, as heard before, brings clarity: “This is my beloved Son, my chosen one; listen to Him.”

In your listening of scripture, do you recall special words in the recent story of the wedding feast of Cana? The servants are anxious for help with the exhausted wine supply. As a strong listener to her son’s power, Jesus’ mother can confidently state: “Do whatever He tells you.” Those become her last recorded words and key words of baptism.

Abraham, as our patriarch of faith, proves to be an ideal listener. Yahweh gives him some very challenging directions. Likely aided by limited distractions, God can even speak to him in dreams.

St. Paul follows and bluntly teaches that Christ’s message is very contradictory to the shallow pursuits of this world. Our lowly bodies can be raised up by putting aside temptations.

As I reflect on the scriptures, I am moved to offer a few thoughts to ponder on listening for Lent. Nothing is original. The tips only come from moments where I feel I “got it right” about listening.

  • Have you ever learned anything while talking?
  • Cut gossip off at home plate; certainly not while already passing first base. Ask yourself and others: “What about this conversation will make us holier? If it won’t, then why are we having it?” (The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers a super use of words that can make us holier.)
  • Consider this: People enthused at sporting events typically read the sports page. Preparation with the scriptures for an upcoming Eucharistic celebration is a must. Bishop Fulton Sheen would say that you will get as much out of Mass as you bring to it. Scripture and preaching are to be proclaimed to pews thirsting with a bucket already started up the well. (A clamor for missalettes during Mass likely pronounces a guilty verdict upon a person who did not prepare.)
  • The obsession to not miss a cell phone call, the distraction of radio traffic in traffic, using TV sound bites as structural background for many homes, and an immediate mandate for trivial conversation upon entry into church are a few sore points for me. (Recognizing that I myself am very guilty of the church trivia, I am going to try to model cutting back conversations in the sacristy.)
  • We need to give people something worth listening to: Evangelization. When was the last time someone heard us distinctively invite them to church? Trust me -- people are out there who desire to hear that!

As I mentioned at the beginning, I did get attentiveness and memory right with Anna. She was in her mid-eighties and I was visiting her at St. Ann’s home in Grand Rapids. My parents, active visitors of cuff link relatives and shut-ins, had urged this college kid to be less than selfish for a moment with his time. I would meet Anna only once and I was fascinated by her memory and gift of sharing.

During my visit with Anna, I misspoke and in that moment took away Christ’s own acceptance of the cross on Mt. Tabor. Upon observing a superbly clean and attractive setting, I noted that “this place seems like a nice place to live!” “Yes,” she said, followed with, “but then you do not have to live here.”

I had dismissed Anna’s cross and without complaint, she had properly reclaimed it.

The conversation soon came to a stop. I started to sense something was wrong and began to rise and seek a nurse. Anna gripped my hand and easily communicated that I was not to leave. We listened in silence and she slowly used her relaxing grip to communicate her death. Anna had been transfigured.

An unusual honor of priesthood is that many people share with us their experiences of clinging to Good Friday crosses and rolling back Easter stones. Don’t you dare miss one!

I have learned that if I properly play out every Lent, I will continue to listen and recall more of what Anna was giving to me.

Note: St. Ann’s home has about 150 residents. Bishop Joseph McKinney and several priests reside there. I am proud to add that my sister, Therese Cotter, visits as within an outreach ministry from a nearby parish.