To pick up where we left off yesterday: Why is it so difficult to get Christians who have “heard” the Gospel in the mechanical sense to “hear” it in the spiritual sense? The first variety of obstacle to the evangelization of Christians lies in the listeners.
I can’t hear because I have my fingers in my ears. Certain sins have become morbidly commonplace among us. If we seem deaf to conscience, the problem is not that it has lost its voice but that we cannot bear to hear it. We shut up our ears so tightly against the bad news of sin that we cannot even hear the good news that sins can be forgiven. Some years ago, a literate and intelligent man whose life was in a mess told me that he was literally unable to grasp the meaning of any passage of Scripture whatsoever. My explanation of the principles of exegesis couldn’t have missed the point more. The problem wasn’t that he couldn’t interpret the text; he couldn’t take in God’s word because he wouldn’t allow himself to.
Christ didn’t make this mistake. When He spoke, He sharply called attention to whether his listeners could hear Him: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We should do that too. Pastors should ask their flocks, “What part of this message are you blocking out? What sin or resentment or cherished conceit are you clutching so tightly that you cannot open your hands to God’s grace? In order to hear the Gospel, what do you have to let go?”
I can’t hear because of all the racket. For most of human history, silence was a familiar companion. Now noise is. Even on those rare occasions when we pull out our earbuds, disconnect from social media, and walk into the sanctuary, all those chattering, jingling, crooning, thumping incantations ring on in our minds. The liturgy of the world drowns out the liturgy of the Word.
What is the solution? To have better noise? No, there is enough noise already on some of the Christian radio stations. God commands recourse to the abyss of silence so that we might hear Him in it: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Much has been written about the need for better Church music, and rightly so. Yet greater is the need for better silence. The best times to press this need are the penitential seasons, especially Lent. Our shepherds should urge us to emulate our ancestors, who knew the importance of fasting not only from food and drink but also from noise and babble.
I’m not listening because I have heard it all before. A young woman approached me after an adult catechesis class to say, “I wish I were a convert like you. It is so much harder for those of us who were raised in the Church to see how wonderful it is.” She meant it well, God bless her, but I found it unsettling. Immersed in grace, it should be easier for those raised in the Church to see how wonderful she is. How can we be jaded by God Himself?
The answer is that we can’t -- but we can certainly be wearied by not having more of Him. We speak blithely about fulfillment in Christ as though complete fulfillment should occur in this world, and as though if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with us. St. Paul knew better: “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The torrent of grace he experienced only whetted the longing for more.
What then should we say to the people in the pews? Never to “settle”! Does it seem to us that we must tamp down our longing for God? No, we must long for Him even more! In one sense we are saved, but in another sense we are still being saved, and in another our salvation is yet to come. If in this life even the very reminders of God’s presence make us sorrowfully aware that He is present to us only in part, then rejoice! He is so great that He uses even the sense of His absence to draw us more closely to Himself. Let Him focus the eyes of our faith. Here we see Him dimly, but there we will see Him in glory.
Part 3 tomorrow.