Learning to become all ears

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

I think it’s about Day 58, but who really knows? With this pandemic, it seems like it’s all one big day.

The number that I’m referring to is how many days I’ve gone without preaching. Now that’s not totally accurate, since I did have a couple of funeral services along the way, as well as these columns, which can be “homily-like.”

But overall, I’ve been “silent” for almost two months.

The archbishop and many of my brother priests have been doing livestream Masses, as well as other innovative events online. I commend their efforts and salute their creativity.

 They’ve given my parishioners an opportunity in these days to hear someone else celebrate Mass and preach — an opportunity that folks in a “one priest” parish rarely get.

For me, however, the suspension of public Masses triggered a need deep inside me — a hunger not to teach, but to be taught. And while there’s no question that I’ve missed the physical congregation at Mass, it’s also been a blessing to celebrate a “private” Mass.

First of all, I’ve enjoyed the flexibility. I’ve had Masses in late morning, mid-afternoon and early evening, whenever the Spirit moved me.

Secondly, I didn’t have to worry about a time limit on Mass. Sometimes, the Mass took much longer than at others.

But it didn’t matter, since the parking lot didn’t need to be cleared out for the next Mass.

Thirdly, the prayer of the faithful often brought me to tears as I had the leisure to pray for so many people and situations by name and to “feel” those needs.

Most importantly, though, was the privilege of being “preached to.” My homilists over these weeks have come from two sources: “Give Us This Day” daily prayer resource and “Daily Reflections for Easter to Pentecost,” by Mary DeTurris Poust.

I’ve learned a lot from ancient saints like St. Gertrude of Helfta and St. Leo the Great to modern scholars and spiritual writers like our own Atchison Benedictine Sister Irene Nowell and Hosffman Ospino. And I always finished up with DeTurris Poust’s daily reflection, meditation and prayer.

It was a blessing as well to sit with these wise homilists, soak up their words and not have to rush on to the prayer of the faithful.

The pandemic has also given me a window into my prayer life. This story captures things well:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So, one evening, he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying.

As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”

People would automatically respond with comments like, “How lovely!” or “Just continue with your great work!”

Nobody listened to what Roosevelt was saying, except for one foreign diplomat. When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat responded softly, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.” (Story found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)

As the “stay at home” directives slowed my schedule down, I’ve come to realize that God is like Roosevelt in the story above. He’s always speaking to me, but I’m rarely listening.

 Sadly, the reasons for that are many: I hurry through prayer, wanting to get to the next task on my to-do list; I do all the talking when visiting with the Lord; I’m easily distracted (Is that a cobweb up in the corner?); I can’t still the “noise of the world” in my heart and mind.

All that has changed in these past few weeks. I’ve had the chance to catch my breath. My “travel time” is practically nonexistent. (It’s as someone said, “I now get six weeks to the gallon!”)

Outside of a few Zoom meetings and some phone calls, I’ve said precious few words and have been freed to listen — to birds chirping, to the wind rustling in the trees, to rain pattering on the windows, to shrieks of joy as neighbor kids play in their backyards.

I’ve discovered anew the truth of these words from the Dalai Lama: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

Being quiet doesn’t come naturally to me — as those who know me, know. But, as I still have so much to learn about God, myself and this beautiful world, I’ve made my default prayer that of Samuel in the Old Testament: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

I’m (trying to be) all ears!

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