Sitting with a group of people the other day, I realised how often we don’t listen to what people are saying to us. At the moment the Media are telling us how the Paralympics has changed our way of thinking about disability, but I think they are over-optimistic. Lots of people, I am afraid, still haven’t really got the message – and maybe that includes you and me?
It’s certainly the case that many people sit in Church Sunday by Sunday, and do not hear what is being said to them. I know that because every now and then they do! Then they say to me : “You know what you said about such and such this morning Father, what great teaching. I never heard that before!” And I feel like screaming, “Aaaah! I often preach about it. It is standard Christian teaching. How come you have never heard it?”
But I don’t, because I know that I am just the same. We hear what we want to hear or what we are ready to hear, and that’s why – every now and then – even those of us who know the faith well will hopefully say “Well I never heard that before!”
Those of you who are parents, indeed all of us, may gain hope from St Augustine. He was brought up by a good Christian mother, but went off Christianity, as he decided it hadn’t got the correct answers to his questions . His mother Monica shed many tears about him, but eventually in 387 AD after 9 years away from the Church, at the age of 30, he discovered that he had not examined Christianity carefully enough. He returned to the Church, and became one of its most famous Bishops and Teachers. He wrote about what happened to him in these words :-
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new ; late have I loved you….. You were with me and I was not with you”…. And here’s the bit that fits with what I am saying… “You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness….. “ Yes! Augustine realised that although he thought he had heard the Christian message, actually he hadn’t…. and that is just like so many people who have dismissed the faith nowadays – often they just haven’t heard it properly.
So when we hear Jesus healing a deaf man in the Gospel today(Mark 7:31-37) we mustn’t just think about it as a healing of physical deafness, for there is a spiritual deafness that we all suffer from at times, that also needs healing. Notice one of the things Jesus does? It says “He took him aside in private”. Yes, sometimes it is the private talk that is all important. Are you having trouble with the faith or the Church? Don’t just disappear. Ask to see me, or someone else, privately in a place where the noise of the world does not drown the voice of God. It is amazing how often simple misunderstandings can be put right if an opportunity is found to talk them through quietly. Or do what some people do with me, talk it out over the email or via Facebook.
I remember a time when I was a teenager when I wondered why I was still going to Church. In my case it wasn’t my parents who kept me going , because they were not church goers. No, I had become a Christian despite them. But that didn’t make it OK, because I was still questioning more and more things. Somehow I carried on going until I got to University. But then a series of private conversations with a friend cured me of my deafness, and I realised that so many of my questions had answers, if only I had not been so deaf.
This deafness however does not just happen in the mind, it also happens in the heart. We can know all the right answers in our head and still find our heart is elsewhere. Here too, we need to realise that God is not just an idea, but a power that seeks a personal relationship with each one of us. This is why that power chose to become the man Jesus, for we humans find it difficult to have a personal relationship with an abstract power called God. Jesus comes and breaks down the barriers that make us keep God at a distance. He takes us on one side as he took the deaf man and opens our heart to his healing love. Then suddenly, things like the prayers and hymns in Church that were dull and ordinary take on a new deeper meaning, and most of all receiving Holy Communion becomes a deep and personal opening to God, rather than something we do every Sunday without thinking about it.
All of us need to ask God to open our ears and our hearts to what he is saying to us, because there is always something new he want to say, but most of all we must be open to his love.