I must admit that I’m finding it harder to hear in a crowded room these days. Recently I was out with some friends and there was so much background noise that I was finding it hard to hear the conversation at the table. I could see my friend’s lips moving and I could hear a muffled sound, but I had to strain to really listen and understand the words. I nodded along to the conversation hoping that I was at least looking half intelligent. Both hearing and following the conversation that night was not easy.
The gospel of John this week (John 10:27-30) talks about those who hear the voice of Jesus and follow. They will have life! The task of hearing the voice of Jesus can also be a challenge for us today. Like my experience in the restaurant recently we can find ourselves being surrounded by a lot of background noise. This is true more than ever in an election year. Our newspapers, radio, television, shopping centres and sidewalks are full of people wanting to speak to us. We are surrounded by voices who want us to hear and follow. In communication and marketing companies, people are paid big money to persuade consumers to hear and follow. The promise of a better life is held out to us on so many fronts.
To hear and to listen is not as straight forward as we think. We are hearing things constantly; the background noise of our lives can be perpetual. We are not always sure of exactly what it is that we are taking in! We may not remember where it was that we heard the latest best piece of advice.
A Christian community is centred on hearing Jesus. That kind of hearing requires more subtlety and discernment than our everyday hearing.
Vatican II’s document on Divine Revelation reflected on the way in which God speaks to us and the manner in which we hear. That document tells us that Jesus Christ himself is the fullness of revelation. He is the one that shows us the Father. To hear him is to hear and to know God. That document also tells that from the time of the Apostles, the faith of the Church has been handed on from generation to generation. And the tradition which comes from the Apostles, we are told:
“…develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”
So, to hear and follow Jesus, according to the Church is to make room for contemplation, study, and reflection; it is to try more deeply to fathom and understand the scriptures, our liturgy, and our tradition. It is to be attuned to the teachings of the church and to engage with them critically and prayerfully. For our tradition is a living tradition which is full of yet to be understood treasures and insights which we are on the way to more profoundly understanding.
The call of the Good Shepherd this Sunday is to listen to his voice. He already knows us, according to John. We will only follow truly when we have done our life’s work of coming to know the one that knows us and who holds us close.
By Fr Brendan Reed