By Fr. Glenn Jones
Have you noticed these days that, in a meeting or gathering, people will often not let a speaker finish his thought before interjecting with some objection or observation? It’s quite rude … to the point that, if in charge of the meeting, I find it necessary to begin by requesting people to wait to be recognized before speaking—sort of an impromptu partial imposition of “Robert’s Rules of Order”.
One of the noticeable benefits of such order is that meetings are shorter. When the speaker is allowed to complete his thought or comment, he often answers pending objections, leaving those objections unnecessary and unsaid. That’s time saved, and then multiply that result by the number of such times and you can cut the meeting time even in half—which is ALWAYS desirable. But, even more profitably, patience in discourse allows for reasoned and fuller discussion.
Most of us have seen cable news shows of guests doing little more than interrupting one another and trying to speak over each another—pretty much pointless to watch unless you simply enjoy an antagonistic dustup … the “gotcha” mentality and cheering on a side preventing the other side from making what may be an important, and even vital, point or objection. But … what’s the profit in that? How can we learn if we refuse to listen? If we prevent reasoned and disciplined debate, how will we discover truth?
That’s one thing nice about reading—by design it is primarily input. We can yell at a book (we probably all have), but we are enticed to keep reading nonetheless … just to see where the author is going, if nothing else. And … just maybe … we’ll realize some little tidbit that increases our own knowledge. So … if we do that with a book, why not do that with people?
We all have our preconceived notions, and each of us think that we’re right, else we wouldn’t hold to our position. And yet … opposing positions are rarely both right … at least to an equal degree. Thus, the more information we can harvest, the better equipped we are. For instance, you labbies imagine entering your time machine and speak to people (other than Albert Einstein) around the year 1900 and tell them that a miniscule amount of a material—uranium—can be converted into enough energy to devastate an entire city, and offer to show them how and why. “Yeah … sure, buddy.” “Impossible!” “Bob … that boy ain’t right.” And they walk off, refusing to listen further. So … imagine their surprise when August 1945 rolls around. History is replete with such disregards … like those who believed that the 1941 Japanese navy could never mount a strike against Hawaii, despite arguments and evidence to the contrary. Ooops.
Like thoughts came to mind this weekend when listening to our reading from Genesis at the Catholic Mass, and of God’s promise to Abram (not yet renamed “Abraham”): “‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, ‘shall your descendants be.’” (Genesis 15:5) Interestingly at very least is the fact that Abraham is believed historically to have lived around 2000-1800 B.C. But Abraham only had two sons—Ismael by the slave woman Hagar, and Isaac by his wife Sarah—a far cry from the “stars in the sky” promise. But…Isaac’s son would be Jacob, through whom came all the tribes of Israel … eventually to Jesus, who is the basis of all Christian belief … of all several billion of us when one considers past, present and future believers.
And, putting this in context, St. Paul wrote: “…not all are children of Abraham because they are his [physical] descendants; but [God promised] ‘Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.” (Romans 9:7-8)
Huh. So God’s promise—transmitted for hundreds of years by oral and perhaps some written tradition, demonstrably written down about 3000 years ago during the reigns of David and Solomon, came true … against all odds, especially considering that the Israelites were later hopelessly scattered by wars and conquest and exile. This doesn’t even touch upon the fact that Christianity is based on a virtual nobody in worldly terms—an executed vagabond carpenter from a despised village called Nazareth in a Roman vassal state. Seems a tad unlikely … unless one considers some influence/power above (Latin “supra”, or “super”) the natural influencing the course of events. But…. “Yeah … sure, buddy.” “Impossible!” “Bob … that boy ain’t right.”
Of course, Christians use this and many other arguments—not only of “feelings”, but of facts—to try to get others to understand our adherence to what may on the surface seem a fantastical belief. But, in this, we are often confronted, as was St. Paul, by those who refuse to even consider listening … as the Athenians, politely but dismissively, walked away: “We should like to hear you on this some other time.” (Acts 17:32)
But … if your curiosity is the slightest bit tickled, especially in this Lenten season before Easter, we retort with St. Paul: “Working together with [God], then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2) Such is the wisdom of listening.
“A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD– but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake– but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire– but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 King 19:11-13)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.