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Along the Way
learning to listen
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A popular video in my house is "Paulie". It was produced in the late 90's and is about the adventures of a talking bird. At one point in the movie Pauline and a Russian immigrant who befriends him are sharing tales of their lives. The immigrant tells of his university years when he fell deeply in love with a girl who was also a student at the university. They spent a great deal of time together and could talk about everything under the sun, except that he could never gather up his courage and tell her that he loved her. He was too afraid that she would reject him or even worse, laugh at him. Several years later the beautiful girl married his best friend. At the reception the girl told him that she had always loved him but was afraid to tell him that, especially as he never spoke to her of his feeling. His friend had spoken to the girl of his feelings and that communication opened the door to their relationship and eventual marriage.

The man in today's gospel reading, could neither hear nor speak. It is not difficult to imagine the fear and frustration that ravaged this man. He wanted to communicate. He wanted to share his thoughts, hopes, and dreams with those around him. Yet, to do that he needed to communicate--to speak, to hear his own words and the words of those who wanted to speak with him. Even before communicating, he had to be able to trust. He had to trust the people who brought him to Jesus that they weren't leading him into danger. He had to trust Jesus when he was taken aside and Jesus put a finger in his deaf ears and spit in his hand and put the spit on the deaf man's tongue. Yet, because he trusted, he was open to Jesus and as a result Jesus opened the man's ears and removed any speech impediment that prevented him from speaking. As a result, no one could keep the man quiet. Even though Jesus asked the people to keep the incident quiet, the man and those around him proclaimed it all the more.

The Russian immigrant in my opening story and the deaf man in the gospel had a similar problem. They were unable to communicate. The man in the gospel lacked the physical ability to communicate but had the trust in abundance that is necessary to communicate with others. The Russian had the physical ability to communicate but lacked the trust necessary to open himself to another--even when his heart ached for the other person.

This is not an uncommon situation. I am sure that we can remember times when it has been difficult to express our feelings to another. I can remember many years ago when I professed my love for a certain young lady and asked her to be my wife. My heart was pounding so hard that I could hardly think My wife tells me that my hands were as cold as ice as well. Many of us have similar memories of the need to take a leap of faith in another person, to trust that person enough to reveal our deepest feelings and hopes to that person and to be open to that person's response--what ever it is. When we find the courage, faith and trust to make that leap, we often discover that we are received with open arms and that our openness to the other person results in a reciprocal openness and sharing.

As we saw from the opening story, problems arise when we do not trust the other person enough to be open with him or her and communicate. That inability cost the Russian the possibility of marrying his beloved. In real life, in my work at the marriage tribunal, I find case after case where marriages are destroyed because one partner or the other can not or will not communicate in any meaningful way with his or her spouse. Without the sharing of one's hopes, fears, joys, dreams and deepest feelings, it is very difficult to build up the community of life that is a necessary part of marriage. It also demonstrates a lack of trust in one's spouse and trust is a necessary foundation for marriage.

The first reading reminds us as well that the lack of trust which undermines our ability to be truly open and to communicate our deepest self to others can even extend to our relationship with God. We can keep God at a distance. We can attend Mass and do everything necessary to meet our obligations as Catholics, yet lack any meaningful relationship with God. In the first reading God speaks through Isaiah saying don't be frightened of me, I come to save you. It isn't a matter of you gearing up the courage to approach me. I have already approached you and professed my love for you. I am hear to save you. All you need do is be open enough, to trust enough to respond to my love for you.

God loves us and tries in everyway possible to give Himself to us totally. In the Eucharist God gives himself to us in the Body and Blood that we eat and drink. In Reconciliation God gives himself to us in the words of absolution. In the sacrament of marriage God gives himself to us in the person of our husband or wife--truly, when we are open to our spouse we are open to Christ as well. In our prayers, when we open our hearts to God in love and trust, God is present to us as well.

When you want to know the key idea of a gospel reading, the easiest way to do it is to read the red letter--Jesus's words. What does Jesus tell us to do in today's readings? Be open!

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Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

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