Sunday, July 08, 2007

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Bible Sunday
Listening to the Cry and the Lullaby


Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14c; Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 or 10:1-9

Sisters and brothers, can you hear it? Can you hear the sound? Just keep very quiet for a moment and listen. It’s quite audible, but only if we listen carefully. Can you hear it now? Doesn’t it sound like a baby crying? Yes, somewhere there’s a baby crying. And we’ve all probably heard a baby cry before. We know how distressing the sound can be. We may not know where the baby is or to whom it belongs, but the sound can still move our hearts, even to the point of breaking. But only if we listen carefully and not let it be drowned out by the many other noises that compete for our attention, only if we let it pierce our minds and hearts, only if we allow it to affect us. Yes, somewhere there is a baby crying. Can we hear it? Let’s be still and listen together for a moment...

Perhaps the sound seems at first to come from far away. Perhaps it sounds like the loud lamentation of the many victims of war and violence in places like the Middle East and the Sudan. Perhaps it’s the muffled cry of malnourished children and their anguished parents trying to scratch out an existence in the poverty stricken parts of the African continent. Perhaps it’s the voiceless cries of undocumented migrant workers many of whom are victimized by unscrupulous employment agents. Perhaps it’s the wheezing of AIDS patients struggling to draw their last breath…

And even as we listen more carefully, doesn’t it seem as though the baby’s cries are also coming from closer to home? Doesn’t it sound like the angry voices of couples newly married but already heading down the road to divorce? Doesn’t it sound like the despair of students who have not made it into the ranks of the elite, who have been labeled mediocre or problematic or simply normal tech? Doesn’t the sound seem to emanate from the cyber-cafĂ©’s they frequent, where they try to numb the pain of boredom, and to achieve some sense of accomplishment in the World of Warcraft? Or doesn’t it sound like the stressed-out sighs of those heading home after a tiring day spent in a tiny cubicle in the Central Business District? Don’t these cries sound more familiar? Perhaps some of them are coming from the house, or even the room, next door…

And if we listen even more carefully, we may even be surprised to discover that the cries we are hearing are also our own. Perhaps we are the ones crying out, we are the ones groaning from the sting of past hurts or the burden of present illness or the pain of ongoing loneliness. Or perhaps we can’t quite identify where or why it’s hurting, except that we feel within us a vague sense of restlessness and unease that makes us cry out for comfort.

Whatever might be its source, sisters and brothers, can we not hear it now? Can we not hear the baby crying? It’s important that we do. Otherwise, our readings today make little sense. After all, what sense is there for a mother to sing a lullaby if her baby is already sleeping soundly? It’s the crying baby, the troubled infant, who needs comforting. And isn’t this what God is doing in our readings today? Isn’t God mothering us, singing us a lullaby?

Today, even as we allow our hearts to be moved by the baby’s cries, even as we find ourselves crying out in our distress, God proclaims to us a joyful message of hope and of peace. Today God assures us that, as a mother does her crying child, God will carry us at the breast and fondle us on the lap. Like a son comforted by his mother will I comfort you, says the Lord.

And this isn’t simply empty talk spoken to calm a noisy baby. For hasn’t God fulfilled God’s promise to us? Hasn’t God carried and fondled us in the arms of Christ the Son, the same arms that were stretched out and nailed to a cross? And, in baptism and confirmation, have we not all nursed at the breast of Christ, the side that was opened by the soldier's lance and out of which poured blood and water? Even now, at this Eucharistic celebration, is Christ not nourishing us in Word and Sacrament? Indeed, do we not all share in Paul’s boast in the second reading? Can we all not boast about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Such is the joyful lullaby with which God is comforting us today. But just as the baby’s cries do not come only from us, so too is the lullaby meant also for ears other than our own. Even as we allow ourselves to be mothered and consoled by our God, like the seventy-two in today’s gospel, are we not also being appointed and sent out to all the towns and places that Jesus himself is to visit? Are we not also being called to proclaim to others, both in word and in work, that the kingdom of God is very near to you? Are we not being invited to share God’s lullaby with others?

But in order to respond generously to this call, we must first have had the experience of being comforted ourselves. Only then can we learn to hear the cries of others, as well as the lullaby with which God wishes to comfort them. Which is why it’s so appropriate that we should be doing two special things today. First, we are celebrating Bible Sunday. And isn’t the Bible important precisely because it is here that we find Christ, God’s comforting Word to a troubled world? Isn’t it in the Bible that we hear God’s lullaby?

But the Bible isn’t just another book to be read from cover to cover. We can only truly appreciate its contents when we learn how to listen to what is being said, to listen prayerfully. Which is why it’s a happy coincidence that at the end of today’s Mass we will also be announcing the Week of Guided Prayer, which will be conducted in our parish from the 15th to the 22nd of this month. This is an excellent opportunity for us to listen even more carefully both the baby’s cries and to God’s lullaby.

And even as we consider how we might take advantage of Bible Sunday and the Week of Guided Prayer, it seems appropriate to end our meditation today with this prayer:

Teach me to listen, O God, to those nearest me,
my family, my friends, my co-workers.
Help me to be aware that
no matter what words I hear,
the message is,
"Accept the person I am. Listen to me."

Teach me to listen, my caring God, to those far from me--
the whisper of the hopeless,
the plea of the forgotten,
the cry of the anguished.

Teach me to listen, O God my Mother, to myself.
Help me to be less afraid
to trust the voice inside--
in the deepest part of me.

Teach me to listen, Holy Spirit, for your voice --
in busyness and in boredom,
in certainty and in doubt,
in noise and in silence.

Teach me, Lord, to listen. Amen. (Adapted by John Veltri, S.J.)

Sisters and brothers, the baby is still crying, even as God continues to hum a comforting lullaby. How might we listen more carefully and respond more generously today?

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