Fr. Roger J. Landry
North American College Assumption Chapel
Saturday of the Sixth Week, Year II
February 19, 2000
James 3:1-10; Mk 9:2-13
There are only three times that we hear God the Father speak in the New Testament. The first is at Jesus’ baptism, when he declares that Jesus is his Son in whom he is well-pleased. The last is during the Last Supper, when Jesus asks him to glorify his name and the Father responds “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The only other time we hear him speak is during the account of the Transfiguration, which St. Mark gives us today. God the Father first repeats what he had said about Jesus at his baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved.” But then this eternal Father of so few words basically zeroes in on Peter, James and John and says something to them that is really quite remarkable when you consider its context: “Listen to him!”
Listen to Jesus. What had the apostles been doing for the previous several months but listening to Jesus, listening to his parables, listening spell-bound to his teaching, which they and others were admitting was done with an authority unlike the scribes and the pharisees? Peter had already confessed him as the Messiah. They were obviously paying attention to Jesus. Despite that, God the Father gives one imperative to the three on Mt Tabor and to us today, the only imperative Sacred Scripture records his giving us, and so we have to pause to consider its magnitude: Listen to Jesus!
We live in an age when listening has become far less valued, in an age of talk-radio and television talk-shows where everybody talks but few listen; in an age when more and more people are setting up personal web pages to tell their own stories; in an age of “tell-all” journalism; in a marketing age when we’re bombarded with advertising messages that we often receive uncritically. We live in an age of so much talking and so much noise that it is becoming harder and harder to hear the voice of God in the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit, as Elijah did on Mount Carmel.
Faith comes, as Paul says so succinctly in his letter to the Romans, ex auditu, from hearing. From listening to God. Not from ceaseless banter. That’s one of the reasons why St. James goes ballistic in the first reading against those with rudderless, bitless, restless, poisonous, tameless tongues. Who use the tongue to spread chaos and confusion and all types of defilement. What he wrote to the twelve tribes of the dispersion two millenia ago could likewise be said about our day in which Jerry Springer and Howard Stern have become our modern icons.
As people of faith in the middle of a war of cultures, we need to return, rather, to the classical icons of Christ and the Mother of God. It’s very interesting that the first time we see Jesus acting for himself in the Gospels, he who is God’s definitive Word in whom the Father said everything is found in the Temple in the midst of the scribes and the Pharisees, not talking, but as Luke tells us, “listening to them and asking them questions.” Mary listened so attentively to God’s word that it literally became flesh within her. Jesus himself gave her the highest praise saying that she was blessed not because she bore him or nursed him but because she “heard the word of God and kept it.” She listened to that word in every event, treasured it within her heart, and kept it in her daily life.
We see in our modern day, too, what happens when someone listens in this way. One of the most striking aspects of George Weigel’s presentation of the Holy Father in Witness to Hope was Weigel’s constant theme of how attentive a listener the Pope is. When he was a student and actor. When he at the Solvay plant during the War. When he ran his seminars as a professor at Lublin. When he got together with his Srodowisko of young couples. And still today as Pope. This man with so much to say is, as Weigel describes, the most attentive listener he has ever met and I’m convinced, with Weigel, that this listening to God in everything and everyone, is one of the real underlying reasons for the Pope’s greatness. To listen to God, to listen to others, is ultimately the greatest sign of humility, for in doing so, one recognizes that he’s got still so much to learn and every interlocutor is in a certain sense his teacher, that God can speak to him through everyone.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,” St. James says, “for those of us who do so will be called to a stricter account.” Well, it’s too late for many of us! Every priest and deacon is by ordination a teacher and each one of us will therefore be called to a stricter account of what we say. We have to speak, but since we have to speak, we have to listen to God all the more, so that those who hear us will truly be hearing God. At our diaconal ordination, each one of us heard or will hear, “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.” And this summarizes St. James’ letter and all that I’ve been trying to say today. First we need to receive the Gospel, to listen to the Word of God and treasure it within. Then we are called to go out and teach it, teach it in words so that others may hear it, and teach it by living it so that others may see that it is truly Good News that really sets us free.
If we keep these imperatives that the Church gives us, then it is our great hope that we will hear God the Father speak again, saying to us, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world.”