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Catholic Culture Overview

Listening must give way to love, and hearing to sacrifice

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 25, 2022

Sorry, my cork has just popped—after reading Pope Francis’ insistence that we “learn to listen” in his statement for World Communications Day. My cork has popped because Pope Francis himself has never given the slightest evidence of listening to those throughout the Church who have pleaded and prayed that he would help the Church to combat the infection of worldly values in her highest offices, her dioceses, her parishes, her religious communities, and her universities. This is a pope who has, instead, repeatedly accommodated worldly values in his public documents and administrative decisions, and reflexively dismissed as “rigid” Catholics who ask him to clarify what he means by it.

Of course, I would not deny the importance of listening to others, especially when they have grievances. But you will seldom (or, more likely, never) hear the word “listen” used that way by Jesus Christ, His apostles, His evangelists, or St. Paul, whom Our Lord commissioned “as one untimely born” to be a special apostle to the Gentiles. The word “listen”, along with its variants, appears in thirty-three New Testament verses. As a simple demonstration, I will quote ten examples at random:

Mt 10:14: “And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

Lk 9:35: “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Jn 10:20: “Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him?’”

Acts 13:16: “So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: ‘Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen.’”

Acts 16:25: “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them….”

Acts 28:28: “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

1 Cor 14: “In the law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’”

2 Tim 3-4: “…but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”

Jas 2:5: “Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?”

1 Jn 4:5-6: “They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

Listening to proclaim

My point here is that the entire weight of Scripture, the Fathers, the Doctors of the Church, and the Saints is on our need to listen to and announce the Good News of Jesus Christ. If we’re honest Christians, listening to others is not an endless process which enables us to put off forever the effort to preach Christ and Him crucified, but merely an act of love for the purpose of finding out how best to acquaint them with the Gospel and the Church. It seems to me that, far too often today, the constant insistence on listening is used as a means of avoiding the task of telling the truth to those who are likely to tell us to shut up and get lost.

Instead, our job is to draw as close to Christ in the heart of His Church as we can, to remain honestly open to helpful criticism of any weaknesses we have not yet recognized and corrected, and above all to have the courage to go ahead and live, preach and teach Jesus Christ, to the point that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. This was the great point that St. Paul made in writing to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose. [Gal 2:20-21]

Note that in this statement, St. Paul refers to the Law because of his Jewish background, affirming that even hearing the Law itself is no excuse for failing to fully represent Christ crucified and Christ risen in the ongoing life of Christ’s body the Church. In a contemporary context, we might render the sense of verse 21 thus: “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through anything else I might hear about and listen to from those who do not accept Christ, then Christ died to no purpose.”

In the Christian scheme, we listen for two reasons: (a) To understand another’s need; and (b) To express love for another through both material and spiritual assistance. We never listen as an excuse for not proclaiming the Gospel, for not adhering to the truth of Christ, or for opening up greater opportunity (as some will seek to do in a more “synodal” Church) for those who refuse to accept Christ as the way, the truth and the life. For the sake of Christ’s body the Church, the Apostles, Evangelists, Fathers, Doctors and Saints would all have rejected listening in any context which did not bring them straight back to listening directly to their Lord and Savior.

Jeremiah to the rescue

I had intended today to write about a passage in Jeremiah which I landed on again in last night’s spiritual reading, in which the prophet responds to those who seek happiness apart from the Lord, lusting instead after the words and excuses and pleasures offered by the powers and principalities of this world:

“As a thief is shamed when caught, so the house of Israel shall be shamed: They, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets, who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to me, and not their face. But in the time of their trouble they say, ‘Arise and save us!’ But where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you, in your time of trouble; for as many as your cities are your gods, O Judah.” [Jer 2:26-29]

As it turns out, then, this theme of listening is not unknown to Jeremiah. In fact, he inveighs against Israel for listening constantly to all the wrong things. Now, we too live in an age which mocks at our folly because we refuse to listen to the material evolutionists and advocates of an infinite cosmos—refuse, indeed, to profess that a tree or a rock really is our father and our mother and our God. Moreover, our greatest crisis is that, even within the Church, far too many set aside every teaching of Christ which interferes with materialist beliefs and with that apparently more urgent morality found in the sophisticated lunacy of worldly fashion.

I promise to listen whenever I see an opportunity to help others, attract souls to Christ, correct my own flaws, increase the Church’s commitment to Divine Revelation, and strengthen our mutual grasp of Catholic faith and morals. But I pray that I will stop listening whenever it is time to preach Christ and Him crucified—I mean whenever I encounter, yet again and again, our deadly modern worship of tree, and stone, and self. This is not a matter of anger and selfishness. It is a matter of personal sacrifice. It is a matter of love.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Jan. 27, 2022 6:05 AM ET USA

    Calm down Jeff, put that cork back in your bottle if you can. I don't know why you would get so upset with PF when all he is doing is echoing scripture. "...go therefore and make disciples of all nations, listening to them in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit." Matty 28:19. Come on, plug in man!

  • Posted by: jjlynch56698710 - Jan. 26, 2022 10:21 AM ET USA

    Beautiful and glorious! As usual Dr Mirus you have hit the nail right on the head. Thank you so much for your brilliant use of your mind.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Jan. 25, 2022 8:50 PM ET USA

    That first paragraph is priceless.