September 5, 2021 – Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7, James 2:1-5, Mark 7:31-37
The following homily was originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, IN in 2015:
One of my prior jobs was that of high school athletic director. There were many details to the job, most of which revolved around the logistics of game night: contracting the opponent, hiring officials, overseeing ticket sales, providing for fan safety, supervising the behavior of fans, and so on.
An interesting, and somewhat sad, result of being an athletic director was that I found it very difficult to enjoy sports in my free time.
I would go to a college game, or even a Colts or Pacers game, and experience anxiety. If I saw someone slip and fall, I would worry about a potential lawsuit. If I saw long lines at the concession stand, I would have concerns about customer satisfaction. I would have the urge to correct the behavior of unruly fans. If I didn’t see enough game officials, I would think, “Oh no! What if one of them didn’t show up?”
I could not turn off the noise of my job long enough to enjoy time away from the job.
The other day at school, the administration watched a newly completed promotional video that highlighted the everyday life of the school. It showed students at various times throughout their day – walking the halls and sharing a laugh with a friend, discussing something with a teacher, working out a problem at the whiteboard, or giving a presentation in front of the class. Music accompanied the video, adding an even more positive and uplifting vibe to it. No one could possibly watch that video and not feel good about our school.
I turned to one of the assistant principals, who is in charge of school safety and discipline, and asked, “What did you think about the video?”
He replied, “All I saw were uniform violations.”
His single-minded focus prevented him from really experiencing the video.
Along these same lines, I want to spend some time reflecting on our ability to focus, looking specifically at the phenomenon of selective hearing.
In analyzing selective hearing, we learn that it can defined in two different ways.
As a specialized skill, selective hearing can be used to filter out the white noise of the world and focus in on one particular sound.
One example would be the mother at a noisy dinner party who is able to hear her infant cry out from a room in another part of the house. I once heard that described as a mother and child being “on the same frequency.”
She was dialed in; she selected what was most important to hear, and chose not to be distracted by anything that would prevent her from hearing it.
Selective hearing may also be used as a tool of convenience. Those adept at this particular form of selective hearing are able to filter out anything that is inconsistent with what they want to hear.
My wife would claim that husbands are quite proficient at this, but I will offer children as my example.
You tell your son he can go outside as soon as he cleans his room. Later, you see him outside and, upon inspection, discover he has not yet cleaned his room. When you confront him about this, he will swear that you never said anything about cleaning his room.
He heard “play outside” but did not hear “clean your room.”
We select what we want to hear, and filter out words that challenge us or do not meet our needs.
I remember seeing a comic strip once that showed a man putting in his new hearing aid. He said: “It’s called a selective hearing aid. It filters out criticism and amplifies compliments.”
Both types of selective hearing I mentioned rely on the ability to filter out unwanted noise or information.
What keeps us from hearing God’s word? Are we unable to filter properly, and thus distracted by the noise of the world?
Or are we simply filtering out what God has to say because we find it too challenging?
In Mark’s Gospel, we heard the Aramaic word, Ephphetha, which we are told means, “be opened.” Jesus said this word as He touched the ears and tongue of a man, enabling him to hear and speak for the first time.
During a baptism, there is an optional part of the ceremony called the Ephphetha rite. In this rite, the celebrant touches the ears and lips of the child with his thumb, saying: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May God touch your ears to receive His word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
“May God touch your ears to receive His word.” He wants us to hear Him.
Today’s first reading had the same message. The prophet Isaiah told us: “Your God comes to save you…the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
God desires to be heard, to be the infant in the other room at the dinner party. He wants us to filter out the noise of the world and focus on Him. He wants us to be on the same frequency.
Why? Because each time God speaks, there is an opportunity to grow. That’s why Jesus often ended His parables by saying, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
How do we master the specialized skill of selective hearing, the type that allows us to filter out the noise of the world and focus on what’s most important?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Make yourself available to God. The reason the world has our attention is because we make ourselves available to the world. We spend our days interacting with, thinking about, and reflecting on the things of this world. We must notch out a piece of our day to give to God. The world gets enough of our time.
- Make morning prayer non-negotiable. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and morning prayer is the most important prayer of the day. It tells God, “You come first. This day is for You.”
- Spend time with Scripture. It is the divinely inspired word of God. He talks to us through scripture, and the message is personalized – each person hears what God intends him or her to hear.
How will you use selective hearing?
Will you filter out what God has to say because you find it too challenging, allowing the distractions of the world to garner all of your attention? Or will you filter out the noise of the world and focus in on what God has to say to you?
We love when we listen.
“May God soon touch your ears to receive His word.”
He may touch your ears, but the transmitter is in your heart. Tune out the noise of the world and dial in to God’s frequency.