28 Sunday Ordinary time – October 9, 2011 – Listening to the Word of God
While studying at Syracuse University I would occasionally preside at a liturgy held in Unity Kitchen, a place where homeless, hungry people could get a hot meal. At one Mass something unusual happened during the liturgy of the word. Two people came to the ambo. One started to read the biblical text very slowly and in short phrases. The second person appeared to ponder the words and then — repeated them. I confess I became somewhat impatient, thinking to myself, “How long will this take?” I was humbled and embarrassed when I found out later that the second person could not read.
Today we continue our eight week series of sermons dedicated to improving our understanding of and appreciation for the Liturgy. We began last week with the Introductory Rites. The purpose of those rites and our own preparation even before arriving in church is to put us in a state of readiness to listen to God’s Word. This week we are focussing on the Liturgy of the Word. There is another helpful commentary in this week’s Bulletin.
Listening is hard work. It is very different from just hearing words. It requires setting aside our own thoughts and removing as many distractions from our mind as possible. The woman who could not read, repeated the words even more slowly and intently than the woman who said them first. The assembly also seemed to listen more keenly as they listened to the second woman.
Listening is the first step in learning about what God is saying to us; a Word that is interpreted in many ways and still being revealed in us and others. Although the Word of God can never be exhausted embracing that Word, allowing it to fill us up, abiding by it in our lives it is not easy in a secular world filled with so many alternative messages. So much information is thrown at us these days we have to shut out some of it. Sometimes our own thoughts and concerns prevent us from listening to what others have to say. For example, it is not unusual to see people checking their smart phones, taking calls and texting even while having something to eat with friends!
This weekend’s Wall Street Journal contains an article which describes the late Steven Jobs, cofounder of Apple, as a secular prophet. The author quotes something Jobs said when he was first diagnosed with cancer. “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.” 
While Jobs’s gospel sounds attractive and may have a faithful following others reject it because it is so self serving. Using advanced technologies may be part of the equation for achieving success in the world. We all use them for different reasons. Whether it is a good strategy for the communication of God’s Word or discipleship cannot yet be determined.
The Word of God is like the rich food and choice wine mentioned in the first reading today. It is given to all. It is thought that Jesus used the parable in the gospel to counter the practices of his opponents who were exclusive and self centered in their actions. The King in the story, on the other hand, invited anyone and everyone to come to his son’s wedding party. Do we relate to each other in the same way? Do we include everybody in our lives? Here at St. Vincent’s we proudly claim to welcome anyone and everyone. Are we leaving anyone out? Please let us know.
The illiterate woman repeating and proclaiming the Word of God in that soup kitchen taught me a lesson. Since it is intended for every person, the responsibility of the community is to study the Word, proclaim it and interpret so that it matters in our day to day lives. Sometimes we say we must practice what we preach. Could we say here is a gift? God’s gift to us. Use it every way you need to use it. Before we can do that, however, we have to remember and appropriate God’s Word in our own lives. Andrew Greeley in his book on The Catholic Imagination  wrote: Catholics come to church because they love the stories. That’s the first step — listening to the stories. The second step is sharing them with others.
1 Crouch, Andy. “The Secular Prophet” in The Wall Street Journal, October 8-9, 2011, C1-2”
2 Greeley, Andrew. The Catholic Imagination (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA; London, England: University of California Press, 2000)