HOMILY WEEK 24 06 – Year I
Listening To, and Keeping the Word of God:
Memorial of St. Pius of Pietrelcina
(1 Tim 6:13-16; Ps100; Lk 8:4-15)
The first reading and gospel today combine to give us a critical message: keep the commandment, and hear and keep the Word of God.
There is a very interesting and intriguing peculiarity in St. Paul’s words to Timothy in the first reading: “I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame.”
There can be no equivocation about these words. St. Paul doesn’t just encourage Timothy to action, he “charges” him to carry out his wish. That is a significant word that underlines the importance of what St. Paul wants Timothy to do.
What is peculiar is that St. Paul uses the singular “commandment” and not the usual plural “commandments”. Why would that be? One answer may be that in his letter to the Galatians 5:14, Paul distills the whole bible into one sentence or commandment: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” So that one commandment covers it all, and is probably what St. Paul is charging or ordering Timothy to live out above all else.
We would do well to take his teaching to heart, and also live out this commandment in our own lives, loving others as we love ourselves, and to do so wholeheartedly and to the best of our ability. In a way, it begins with being able to love ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are, to forgive ourselves, to see ourselves as loved and loveable. Then we will more easily be able to love others.
The L’Arche movement has produced some video’s that share the story of some of their members. One video highlights the story of Musa. Born with cerebral palsy and obviously physically challenged, he was thrown into a garbage bin by his parents. Fortunately, someone found him and “mothered” him into adulthood and his reception into a L’Arche community. He is shown being able to do many things – bake cookies, sand wood, etc. What stands out the most, however, is his infectious bubbling joy at just being alive and especially at being totally and unconditionally loved by God, something he sings, dances and proclaims freely to all!
In the gospel, Jesus relates the well-known parable of the sower that invites us to identify what kind of soil we are. The explanation is familiar: the hard path symbolizes those who hear the word of God but don’t really listen to it at all, who resist the message; the rocky soil is those who hear the word gladly, perhaps during a weekend retreat, but don’t take it seriously, might make a commitment of some sort, but it does not last usually more than a few days; the soil with thorns is those who hear the word, take it into consideration, but are just too busy and distracted about many things to make it a priority, and of course, the rich soil is those who not only hear the word, but listen to it, ponder it, pray with it, apply it to their lives, make changes in their lifestyle because of it, are to a certain degree transformed by it and put it into practice in their everyday lives, thus allowing it to bear much fruit.
The key to this gospel and what Jesus is teaching through this parable is the difference between “hearing” a word, and “listening” to that word. We hear many things with our ears in any given day, but how much to we really listen to what is being said, try to enter into the meaning of the message, understand its nuances and levels of meaning, and let it touch our lives. We hear with our ears; we listen with our hearts. Jesus wants us to listen, not just hear, his words.
Pat Livingstone was the assistant facilitator at the Centre for Continuing Formation in Ministry in Notre Dame, Indiana. She was probably the best listener I have ever come across. It was always a marvel to witness her “listening” to another person – paying complete attention, eyes focused on the speaker, oblivious to everything else going on in the room. One went away from an encounter with her feeling affirmed, special and truly listened to, heard and understood.
Would that we could pay that kind of attention to the Word of God. Actually, Lectio Divina, or the prayer of contemplation, is one of the best ways to truly hear and listen to God speaking to our hearts. As Thomas Keating put it, “Silence is the language that God speaks best.” To read a passage, meditate on it, pray with it and then just be present to it, letting it soak into our very being, is to be very rich soil indeed.
Today we honour St. Pius of Pietrelcina. Francesco Forgione (1887-1968) was born in the Italian village of Pietrelcina. He entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at the age of 16, taking the name Pio (‘pious’), and was ordained in 1910. A stigmatic, he lived more than 50 years at the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, devoted to a life of ministry through sacramental reconciliation and celebration of the Eucharist, and helping countless people who sought his counsel. Pope Paul Vi said of him, “Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? Or because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk, and was – it is not easy to say – one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.” Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
The Eucharist consists of two tables – the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist, based on our Judeo-Christian roots of synagogue worship and temple sacrifice. We are invited to try to pay greater attention to the words that are read, for they truly are the Word of God.
May our celebration empower us to keep the commandment to love others as we love ourselves, and to both hear the Word of God and keep it by living it out in our lives.