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16150 St. Anthony Rd.
Emmitsburg, MD. 21727
Phone: 301-447-2367


Listening to Voices Other than Our Own

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(02-07-09) Friends all, I rarely go to the movies -they're simply too expensive. Yet last week I joined a lady-friend of mine and her father to head out to see a compelling film - Doubt. I had carefully read the script of Doubt when it came out as a play a few years ago. I reviewed it again to tune my expectations to a higher pitch. I wasn't disappointed.

This richly laden film, strikingly acted by Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffmann as Father Flynn is solidly thought-provoking. I was captivated by Sister Aloysius, a rigorous principal of a parochial school back in the 1950s. She has no apparent openness to the gospel of love. For her, maintaining a rigid order in society and following strictly the chain of command in the church hierarchy are necessary lifeboats to keep all who live in her world from floundering. I agreed with her justified resentment of the way parish nuns were held in a subordinate stature to the rather well-living parish priests. As the story progresses, Sister Aloysius expresses a concern for one of the altar boys whom she thinks that the parish priest has abused. Her "certitude" that the priest is guilty blinds her to any voices other than her own. Her efforts to get the priest out of the parish are capped by a successful lie. We never find out whether the priest is guilty or not. The priest is appointed pastor of a neighboring parish. As Sister Aloysius crumbles and collapses into the arms of a younger Sister. her own ironclad convictions about order, hierarchy and the guilt of the priest collapse into a cascade of doubt. Her convictions had blinded her - more accurately - deafened her to voices other than her own.

All too often, friend, we too can become deaf to voices other than our own. Too often we harden our minds and hearts to a wisdom that is not our wisdom, to a love that is not a love on our terms. When our convictions and certitudes and comforts are threatened, darkness or blind spots in our minds and hearts easily develop. That little "intellectual" guardian or censor that has served us so well and helped us to run smoothly and kept us in control seems to have walked way.

I want to apply what I've just mentioned to the way we pray. Can we admit to ourselves that sometimes we block ourselves from really hearing or listening to the Word of the Lord. The prayer-words which come so easily to us become sawdust on the tongue. The words that we have used in wonderful prayers learned in our childhood may appear hollow and empty. Recall in Shakespeare's Hamlet the scene in which Hamlet overhears the words of Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father. In his struggle to pray Claudius says: "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thought never to heaven go." (III, 3)

We make use of inspired human words in our private prayer and above all in the psalms, readings from scripture and our Eucharistic prayers. These words have been inspired to draw us closer and connect us to the Lord. When the reader at the end of our first and second readings at Mass proclaims: "The Word of the Lord", is our reaction once in a while a causal nod of the mind: "what else is new"? Is our response: "Thanks be to God" thoughtless or thoughtful?

I think that the way to meet this challenge to our prayer life is simply to pray for the gift - the grace - of an "openness of spirit" not only in regard to the Word of the Lord but also in regard to other voices that come into our lives. . . . an openness of spirit-to be willing to look beyond the confines of the certitudes and convictions that may hem us in. We need to beg for the grace of an "understanding mind and heart". If you and I are "closed in" only on ourselves we cannot be open to really listen to voices other than our own, to God or anyone else. Nor, in that situation can we be open to receive the gift of love from God or anyone else.

Our journey is one of moving from being "closed in" on ourselves to "openness of mind and heart." The disciples of Jesus had to make a journey like ours in belonging to Christ. They had to learn that quiet, prayerful reflection is essential in their belonging to Christ. Consider the excerpt from today's Gospel passage.

It was a typical day in the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Mark describes Jesus as healing the sick, as praying, and as proclaiming God's kingdom. Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law from fever and then moves on to a general healing of the sick and those possessed by demons. Note, friends, Jesus' next move-one of supreme importance. In the middle of all the excitement from the townsfolk Jesus takes off to a deserted place for prayer. It is in his prayer that he renews his intimacy with the one whom he calls "Abba" or "Father". His disciples, however, eagerly and excitedly pursue him. "Hey, Jesus, you're on center stage. The whole town's looking for you. The more wonders, the better." His disciples fail to realize that Jesus is not a mere worker of wonders. They have failed to grasp the lesson that frequent, prayerful centering on God is essential that they may serve in building up the Kingdom of God.

Rather than go along with his followers' desires, Jesus announces his agenda: "Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." Jesus will continue to preach what he has preached before: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel." Jesus is keenly aware healing the multitudes is definitely secondary to his proclaiming the reign of God. Little by little his disciples began to realize that Jesus' acts of healing could be truly understood only in the context of his proclaiming God's reign, the Kingdom of God.

Each day, friends, may we take some time-if only five minutes - but at a time when you are not driving - a time to center or focus on the Father's love for you in your uniqueness through Jesus in the Holy Spirit - Ask for the gift of an "understanding mind and heart" that you and your neighbor - including me - may grow in getting our own priorities straight.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

Read other homilies by Father Paul