26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A ~ October 1, 2023
OBEDIENCE THROUGH LISTENING
The value of obedience involves not only speaking but, perhaps even more importantly, listening. To truly be heard, we must first extend the gift of our attention to others. It’s a powerful paradox that when we want people to listen to us, the key lies in our willingness to listen to them. Think of it as a bridge, where one end is your desire to share your thoughts, ideas, and emotions, and the other end is your capacity to truly hear and understand those of others. This bridge is fortified by empathy, patience, and the genuine curiosity to comprehend the world from their perspective. When we engage in active listening, we build connections that transcend mere words. We create spaces where voices are heard, where experiences are acknowledged, and where the magic of understanding blossoms. It’s a silent affirmation that each person’s story matters, that their presence is valued, and that their thoughts are worthy of consideration. In a world that often amplifies the noise of opinions, taking the time to genuinely listen becomes an act of courage and compassion. It’s a testament to your commitment to fostering meaningful connections and enriching the lives of those around you. If we fail to listen and do whatever we like to do, then there is no difference between us and the trees in the following story.
There was once a forest made up of tiny trees that were all growing up together. They had been planted by a very old labourer who took care that they would all grow up to be straight and healthy. However, the area was battered by strong winds, and the little trees preferred to avoid the bothersome gusts, so they bent their trunks and branches to shelter themselves.
The old man, knowing they could never grow well like this, set about straightening them out, and spent many hours tying their slim trunks to supporting posts, hoping his beloved trees would understand he was doing this for their own good.
But those naughty trees had no desire to put up with all that wind. It mattered not to them that the old man would promise them that when they were tall and upright the air wouldn’t bother them a lot. They always got by, by bending and twisting themselves, hiding from the wind. Only one of those trees, one located right in the middle of the forest, forced itself to grow up straight, patiently bearing the annoying gusts.
The years passed, and the old man died. And from then on, the trees could grow however they liked, bending, and crouching from the wind just as they pleased, with no one bothering them about it. All, that is, except the single straight tree in the centre of the forest, who remained determined to grow up just as a tree should.
But as the forest grew, and the trees got thicker and stronger, they began to hear cracks from inside. Their branches and trunks needed to keep growing, but the trees were so twisted that the inexorable growth they were experiencing only brought them pain and suffering, even more than the suffering they had avoided by staying out of the wind. Each day and night, in the depths of the forest, one could hear the cracking and snapping of the trees, and it sounded like groans and sobbing. And around that area the place became known as the wailing forest.
And it was a place with a special charm since, right in its centre, surrounded by thousands of short, knotty, twisted trees, rose one impressive tree that was long and straight like no other. And that tree, the only one that never creaked or cracked, continued growing and growing, without a worry for the capricious wind and its accomplice, the breeze.
Obedience is a virtue of so excellent a nature, that Our Lord was pleased to mark its observance upon the whole course of His life; thus, He often says, “He did not come to do His Own will, but that of His Heavenly Father”. He must have learned from his own mother whose words keep reminding us to obey the Lord and trust in him; “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word”.
A young man had been to Wednesday night Bible Study. The Pastor had spoken about “listening to God and obeying the Lord’s voice.”
The young man could not help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?” After service he went out with some friends for coffee and pie, and they discussed the message. Several different ones talked about how God had led them in different ways. It was about ten o’clock when the young man started driving home. Sitting in his car, he just began to pray, “God, if you still speak to people, speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.”
As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, “God is that you?” He did not get a reply, so he started on toward home. But again, the thought came to him… buy a gallon of milk.
The young man thought about Samuel, and how he did not recognize the voice of God, and how little Samuel ran to Eli. “Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk.” It did not seem like too hard a test of obedience. He could always use the milk. So, he stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started toward home.
As he passed Seventh Street, he again felt the urge, “Turn down that street.” This is crazy, he thought, and drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down Seventh Street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down Seventh. Half jokingly, he said out loud, “Okay, God, I will”.
He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It was not the best, but it was not the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark, like people were already in bed.
Again, he sensed something, “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.” The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad, and I will look stupid.”
Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door and said, “Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something but, if they don’t answer right away, I am out of here.”
He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?”
Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he just got out of bed. He had a strange look on his face, and he didn’t seem so happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. The man asked, “What is it?” The young man thrust out the gallon of milk and said, “Here, I brought this to you,” he said.
The man took the milk and rushed down a hallway speaking loudly in Spanish. Then from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face.
The man began speaking and half crying, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We did not have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.” His wife in the kitchen yelled out, “I ask him to send an angel with some. Are you an Angel?”
The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put it in the man’s hand. Then he turned and walked back toward his car and tears were streaming down his face. He knew then that God does still speak to people… and answer prayers.
St. Augustine rightly compares two groups of people who go astray from the Lord by not listening and then comes back to the Holy Mother Church and obey. “They were scattered on every mountain, and on every hill and over the entire face of the earth. What is the meaning of the phrase: They were scattered over the entire face of the earth? Some men continually strive for all the goods of the world, the goods that are so evident on the face of the earth; yes, they love and prize them. They do not want to die, to have their lives buried in Christ. Over the entire face of the earth: such men love earthly things; moreover, such straying sheep are to be found over the entire face of the earth. They dwell in different places, but one mother, pride, has given birth to them all, just as one mother, our Catholic Church, has given birth to all faithful Christians scattered over the entire world. Small wonder that pride gives birth to division, and love to unity. But our catholic mother is herself a shepherd; she seeks the straying sheep everywhere, strengthens the weak, heals the sick, and binds up the injured. They may not know one another, but she knows all of them because she reaches out to all her sheep.
Thus, she is like a vine that is spread out everywhere in its growth. The straying sheep are like useless branches which because of their sterility are deservedly cut off, not to destroy the vine but to prune it. When these branches were cut down, they were left lying there. But the vine grew and flourished, and it knew both the branches that remained upon it and those that had been cut off and left lying beside it. She calls the stray sheep back, however, because the Apostle said about the broken branches: God has the power to graft them on again. Call them sheep straying from the flock or branches cut off from the vine, God is equally capable of calling back the sheep or of grafting the branches on again, for he is equally the chief shepherd and the true farmer. And they were scattered over the entire face of the earth, and there was no one to search for them, no one to call them back, that is to say, no one among those wicked shepherds. There was no one to search for them, that is, no one among men”.
In our modern world two words become obsolete: Listening and Obeying. No one either in the family or society wants to listen and obey and these issues are causing more problems in the society. In our present times, people think these two words are making them lose their own identity and respect. Why should we listen and obey to others when we do not need other people in our lives? We know everything and no one has the right to touch or teach them anything. However, I believe by listening and obeying we discipline ourselves and enhance our spiritual growth. In our Catholic faith there are so many wonderful saints who have given us the example of perfect obedience through their own lives that there is so much for us to learn. We blindly assume obedience is exhausted by the demeaning submission of our freedom to an extrinsic imposition of an authority figure. We tend to look at any suffering that results from obedience as something to be avoided at all costs.
Saint Catherine of Siena spent her life encouraging a deeper obedience to God the Father. Although the earthly life of this Doctor of the Church ended over six hundred years ago, her spiritual teaching has passed into the universal patrimony of the Church. In particular, the personal relationship she enjoyed with the eternal Father through her faith in Christ crucified can help us reassess our own attitudes toward the Fatherhood of God, the obedience of Christ and suffering for the Lord.
For Saint Catherine of Siena, the painful but beautiful mystery of Christian obedience is rooted in the truth about the Father revealed in Christ. The Father is not indifferent to our plight, and He is not removed or far away from the hardships we must endure. In the wisdom of Saint Catherine, He is completely aware of us and knows the truth about who we are. He knows the peril we face and ever hopes for our return to Him, even as we demean and hurt one another in ways He finds completely unacceptable. The Father desires that we obey His Eternal Word, and this requires us to be obedient to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is as true in the obedience rendered in religious life as it is in the obedience, we owe one another in our marriages and in our families. When we respond to one another with an impatience unbecoming of the Lord, we glimpse at our lack of trust in God. There is an abyss that yawns between the impatient power games we play with each other and true Christian obedience. If it is painful at times, the obedience of Christ is always open to friendship and salvific solidarity in the most unexpected and beautiful ways”.
This Sunday’s Scriptures Readings are teaching us the lesson to learn how to be obedient to God the Almighty Father. Prophet Ezekiel is inviting everyone to listen to the voice of God and turn back from their sinful ways and have eternal life. To obey the Lord, we need to listen his voice first but sometimes we react in different way as the Psalmist says “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” Therefore, in my anger I swore, they shall not enter my rest.”
In the Gospel through the Parable the Lord is teaching us to learn to be obedient. The obedience doesn’t come from mere words, but it is shown through the action. This obedience is not only human, but it is divine as well. Our Saviour and Teacher has us through his own life to be faithful; “he was obedient to the death even death on the cross”. In the Book of Revelation, we read it is written “be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of eternal life.
Here are some quotes from the saints regarding obedience and I believe they are going to teach so much during this whole week to meditate:
“I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible”.
St. Teresa of Avila
“It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey”.
“I often thought my constitution would never endure the work I had to do, (but) the Lord said to me: ‘Daughter, obedience gives strength.”
St. John Chrysostom
“On each occasion I say: ‘Lord, thy will be done! It’s not what this or that one wants, but what You want me to do.’ This is my fortress, this is my firm rock, this is my sure support.”
St. Gregory the Great
“Obedience, is rightly placed before all other sacrifices, for in offering a victim as sacrifice, one offers a life that is not one’s own; but when one obeys one is immolating one’s own will.”
St. Francis de Sales
“The Devil doesn’t fear austerity but holy obedience.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
“Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His. If obedience is lacking, even prayer cannot be pleasing to God.”
St Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul
My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by long prayers and mortifications. (894)
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Don’t give in to discouragement……. If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers. Never bother about people’s opinions. Be obedient to truth. For with humble obedience, you will never be disturbed.
Holy Father Pope Francis shares his reflection on the Gospel: “Today’s Gospel in fact, it penetrates the soul and brings to light the secrets and contradictions of the heart.
Today it challenges us with the parable of the two sons, who respond to the Father’s invitation to go into his vineyard: One says no, but then goes; the second says yes, but then doesn’t work. There is, however, a big difference between the first son, who is lazy, and the second, who is hypocritical. Let’s try to imagine what happened inside them. In the heart of the first, after his no, the invitation of his father still rang out; in the second, however, despite his yes, the father’s voice was buried. The memory of the father awakened the first child from laziness, while the second, although he knew the good, contradicted his word with his actions. In fact, he had become impervious to the voice of God and of conscience, and without any problems accepted the duplicity of life. Jesus with this parable places two paths before us. Experience shows that we are not always willing to say yes in word and deed, because we are sinners. But we can choose whether to be sinners on the way, who listen to the Lord, and when they fall, they repent and rise, like the first child; or sitting sinners, ready to always justify themselves and only with words according to what suits them.
This parable Jesus was addressed to some religious leaders of the time, the Son with his double life, while ordinary people often behaved like the other son. These leaders knew and explained everything, in a formally flawless way, like true intellectuals of religion. But they did not have the humility to listen, the courage to question themselves, and no strength to repent. And Jesus is very strict: he says that even tax collectors are more likely to enter the Kingdom of God. It is a harsh rebuke, because the tax collectors were corrupt traitors of the homeland. So what was the problem with these leaders? They were not simply mistaken about something, but they were mistaken in the way of life before God: they were, in words and with others, unyielding guardians of human traditions, unable to understand that life according to God is on the way and requires the humility to open up, repent and start again.
The will of the Father, who every day gently speaks to our conscience, is carried out only in the form of repentance and continuous conversion. In the end, everyone has two paths ahead of them: to be repentant sinners or hypocritical sinners. But what matters is not the reasoning that justifies and attempts to save appearances, but a heart that moves forward with the Lord, struggles every day, repents, and returns to Him. Because the Lord seeks the pure of heart, not pure “on the outside”.
Let us listen to the voice of God and obey him because he is our Father, and we are his children the work of his hand. To listen and obey the Lord is let go and let God in our troubled world and life as this following story will remind us.
Some few years ago a university student was listening to a Bible reading on the first chapter of Genesis. The speaker described God in His work of turning chaos into cosmos, and he played on the word “let”—”And God said, Let there be light; and there was light,” and urged his hearers to “let God.” This young man went home with the Word of God ringing in his ears and he could not get rid of them. He carved them out in wooden letters, threaded them on a string and hung them in his dressing room. “Let God!” But how could he “let God”? It meant so much. And then one morning in desperation he banged his bathroom door as he went out, saying, “I cannot let God.” When he came back the “d” from his legend was missing and it read, “Let go.” And he saw his difficulty. He saw the thing to which he was clinging, which kept him from blessing, and he “let go” and “let God.
Do we listen to obey the Lord?
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