Whoever has ears ought to hear. ~ Matthew 13:36-43
God told me to shut up once.
Really. Loud and clear, as if someone was yelling in my left ear.
It was a period of my life during which I was particularly broken. I found myself in such darkness I didn’t think there could ever be light again. In prayer, I’d plead “God, talk to me. Tell me what to do. I’m so confused, I need you — why won’t you talk to me? Why have you left me alone? I don’t know how to cope, what to do, what path to take… Please, God! Where are you? Say something? Say SOMETHING!”
And then I heard it. A scream in my left ear.
“Paul – shut UP! Are you deaf?”
I spun around, but nobody was in the sanctuary at all.
And so I started listening. It all started happening when I started listening. The chirping of a bird or purring of a cat to break my moments of dark thought; a comment from a friend here, an encounter there, a simple memory, or oddly poignant song on the radio…
I recall a time when my then 5 year old daughter and I were walking toward the sanctuary when the Pastor walked up and said, “Daphne, I just love your shoes!” (they were very pink, and very bright). And she said “Oh, Monsignor, I don’t love them. They’re only things. You can’t love things… Only people.” Very graciously he replied, “You know, you’re right. I don’t love them, but I sure do like them very much. Well, goodbye.” And she, proving that she indeed was my child, opened her mouth and piped up, “No, no! Monsignor, for people with faith there is never a goodbye… Only See-You-Laters.” For people with faith, there are never goodbyes.
But this one time, one day after a mass, a person I didn’t know came to me and began a conversation. It wasn’t very long, and I didn’t say very much, but in our exchange, he said things that no stranger to me could ever know. Things I’d never revealed to anyone. It was as though he was reading from the Book of Paul. And his last comment struck me most. He said,
“I knew I would find you. I just had to find you and tell you to wait… be patient… You’re not alone, and everything will be ok.”
I realized I had been so wound up in my hurt, so focused on my telling God to talk to me that I couldn’t hear. There was no way for Him to reach me. I wouldn’t let God get my attention.
It all started happening when I started listening. I needed to get out of God’s way. And guess what? A miracle happened.
Our journey in life is littered with pain and tragedy, and if we constantly look down at that waste on the road, we’re likely to miss all the opportunities God uses to talk to us – God is always knocking at the door of our hearts, begging to be let in. Yes, in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of our stories, and in the face of each person, woven into every moment of every encounter, God is there. No matter what, he walks our journey with us, accompanying us at all times… if only we (I) would shut our (my) mouth. If we could just open our eyes and see, our ears and listen, we’d find God is present in the ordinary and the extraordinary. When we’re in pain, and when we’re in paradise.
Moses had the burning bush. Elijah had a whisper. The Virgin Mary had an Angel. The two disciples heading toward Emmaus had Jesus himself, but couldn’t recognize him until the sharing – the experience – the breaking open of the bread.
So look around… Perhaps a pal or neighbor says a word that “hits home,” or you see some graffiti on the side of a truck that goes by, perhaps a “tiny whispering sound,” or someone you’ve only just met who seems to know exactly what you’re going through… Or maybe, just maybe even a 5 year old ballerina with very pink, very bright shoes.
“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Are you listening?
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, CA, and a member of the retreat team at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.