Fr. Luke Macnamara OSB
Saint Benedict opens his Rule with the words “Listen O my child to the ear of the master, and incline the ear of your heart.” This is a different quality of listening than we are used to. It is not the simple decoding of the sound waves that cause our ear drums to vibrate. This special listening involves a deeper organ, the ear of the heart, a listening in the very core of our being.
Why does Benedict insist on this special quality of listening? There is a great risk that most of life passes us by? Sadly, we too often miss out even what is most important. I remember observing a couple at a train station. The woman boarded the train, the man remained on the platform. The woman kept looking out at the platform. When the train pulled out and she gave her final wave, she closed her eyes to keep the memory of her partner safe, to hold it close. I do not know the woman, but I suspect that she never really left her partner. While physically apart, her love for him was very much alive.
Saint Benedict insists on this deeper listening because the stakes are high. Jesus wishes to give us nothing less than eternal life. It is hard to imagine what eternal life looks like. It will be something akin to the change at birth when we left the womb to enter the world. We were quite satisfied in our little dark sack. We had everything supplied by a tube and were in a warm bath with no intruding light. Entering into the world, our bodies took on a whole new range of activities. Our mouths which had no real function before are now used for breathing, nourishment, speaking, smiling, and kissing. Our previous life which had appeared full, now appears so limited. In like manner, when we die and our transformed bodies rise to eternal life, there will a quantum leap, whereby we will see Jesus and the Father and be under the shelter of God’s tent. This is what is pictured symbolically in the book of revelation. Gathered before the throne of God and the lamb (namely Jesus), dressed in the white robes of our baptism, we are sheltered in the tent of God and will never hunger or thirst or be afraid. The lamb will be our shepherd.
How might we prepare for eternal life? Benedict advises tuning into the important moments of life every day and asks his monks to begin each day by singing this psalm verse “O that today you would listen to his voice”. This awareness involves not only the five senses but the deepest inner sensory organ, the heart. This is the organ I was privileged to witness in action in the young woman on the train. After her eyes opened she was somehow transfigured. The stress of the journey and the separation was gone. Physical absence was transformed into spiritual presence.
At this Mass we have heard Jesus offer us eternal life and now will shortly receive his nourishment at this altar for the journey. May we not limit our horizons to the physical world and ready ourselves for the great future that God has in store for each us – eternal life. Some of you will be called to fulfil that vocation in marriage, others perhaps as monks, nuns, or missionaries. Be open to the Lord’s call as he is the one who truly wants the best for you.