"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." (Psalm 95:8)
I have a penchant for getting into trouble with my sister when we talk on the phone because she always claims that I don't listen to her. I do listen even though she asks me every couple of minutes: “Are you listening to me?” I do admit there has been a time or two when my mind has drifted or I have been working on something else (multi-tasking) and she asks if I’m listening. This happened last week when she called and was telling my about my nephew’s first days of Pre-K 3. After a few minutes, she said, “You’re not listening to me.” I told her I was. She paused for a second and said, “you’re watching a baseball game, aren’t you?” “I’m not!” I tried to defend myself, but I kind of actually was watching a game. Now ever since I was a kid, my mother and my sister know when I am lying because my lip starts to curl. So my sister exasperated said, “I can hear your lip curling over the phone!” I never did admit it to her. (I guess I’ll be getting a pretty angry phone call once she reads this.) The reason I bring up this story is because today’s readings are all about listening particularly to the voice of God. In the late 90’s during the sitcom “Frasier”, the titular character who played a psychiatrist with a radio show would welcome his callers on the air by declaring, “I’m listening.” This is what God is telling us constantly in the Scriptures particular in the gospel when Jesus tells us that our communal prayer will be answered by our Father in heaven. He is always listening, but the question that we are challenged with today is: do we listen to Him?
There are many obstacles that prevent us from hearing the voice of God, and it is very hard to hear His voice if we’re not listening which is an essential, yet often neglected, component of prayer. If we don’t listen to God, we become disconnected from his will which in turn hardens our hearts and allows us to be easily led into sin. In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about fraternal correction and about pointing out the sins of our brothers and sisters. The reason that Jesus does this is because sometimes a brother or a sister may be the last person to know that they are in trouble or in sin. Think of an alcoholic who needs an intervention in order to realize that they have a serious problem. What we sometimes fail to realize is that sin has a social dimension. It may be a “private sin”, but it not only affects our relationship with God, it affects our relationship with the Church because it causes us to distance ourselves from God and prevents us from being effective members of Christ’s body. That is why during the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass, we say “I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters…” For this reason, Jesus asks us to intercede for our brothers and sisters who have gone wayward because they may need to be rescued from the clutches of sin. Sin drives such a wedge between us and God and our community. Sin destroys us. It blinds us. It sucks us into a vortex of despair. It tricks us into doing something we think will make us happy when all it does is drive us further away from our God and make us numb to its horrendous effects. Sin does not allow us to love as St. Paul calls us to love in the second reading, but ultimately, sin makes us forget what the voice of God sounds like.
It is in the despair of sin that we start to blame God for our own self-inflicted problems and start to complain that He isn’t listening to us. This is a complaint I hear often: “God doesn’t listen to me.” It’s not that God isn’t listening to us. It’s that we’re not listening to Him. Even when trapped by sin, God always listens to our pleas and sends good friends to rescue us and bring us back home where we begin to remember what God’s voice sounds like. It is a voice of peace. A voice of comfort. A voice of serenity. A voice that makes us feel that we are home. So again, the problem isn’t that God isn’t listening to us, the question we must ask ourselves today is: do we listen to Him? May we remove all stains of sin that may harden our hearts so that we can freely approach God’s presence and say, “Speak, Lord. I’m listening.”