The Mass as Listening

“Listening is a vital aspect of the active participation of the faithful. One participates fully when one listens.”

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, “The Mass is Listening,” in The Catholic Mass, 139

A Homily

We live in an incredibly noisy age. I don’t know about you, but from the first moment of the day until I go to bed again, I feel constantly bombarded by emails, texts, phone calls and every other kind of alert. When we go to the store, there’s music. When we drive in our cars, there’s podcast or a radio program. And then there is the never-ending background hum of modern life – the traffic noise, the sirens, the advertisements, the chatter. 

Like fish in the ocean, we swim in a sea of noise. We grow accustomed to it. And little by little, over days and weeks and years, the bombardment of noise changes us. We find ourselves restless in rare moments of quiet. We are uncomfortable to be alone with ourselves.  

We have become addicts of distraction. And the worst is this: In our distraction, we have become deaf to the “still, small voice” of God. “When we come in from the outside our ears are filled with the racket of the city, the words of those who have accompanied us, the laboring and quarreling of our own thoughts, the disquiet of our hearts’ wishes and worries, hurts and joys. How are we possibly to hear what God is saying?” (Romano Guardini, qtd. in Schneider, The Catholic Mass, 139)

At every Holy Mass, Christ, the Word of the Father, speaks to us. And His Word is spirit and life (Jn 6:63), bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (6:33). Do you long for that life (cf. Ps 34:12)? Then first, learn to “be still, and know that I am God!” (Ps 46:10) “The liturgical life begins … with learning stillness” (Guardini, qtd. in Schneider, 140). Stillness is the natural state of a child at rest in the arms of his Father. Like a child, then, before we pray, we cast ourselves into the arms of God, whispering to Him all our anxieties and cares. 

When there is nothing left to say, we will be still and silent in the arms of God. Then we may begin to listen. We will “pay attention and make a real effort to understand what is being said” (139-40) in the readings, the prayers, the hymns and chants of the Mass, knowing that each word is spoken directly to us by the “One whom we know loves us” (St. Teresa).

Silence and stillness take practice. Today, at this Holy Mass, resolve to keep silence in the car on your next drive to church, and get here at least 10 minutes early to settle into the arms of the Father. As we learn to listen, we will taste that peace the world, with all its distractions, cannot give (cf. Jn 14:27), “and [that] peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6), both now and ever, unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

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