Lenten listening: What do you hear?

July 29, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.
Lenten listening: What do you hear?
Lenten listening: What do you hear?


By Carolyn Woo | Catholic News Service

There is an ongoing debate in our home on how well my husband can hear. He doesn't always catch the conversation, and particularly so in noisy venues. Sometimes I will loudly convey a message from the bottom of the stairs to his office upstairs. (I guess that would be yelling, but it is such an unattractive image!)

Almost always, David will work hard to get the message: In a crowd, he will cup one ear and lean toward the speaker; at home he will come into the room where I am; and frequently he asks for repetitions. 

One day watching Dave, it hit me that Lent is a time to practice our hearing. For many of us, our spiritual listening skills are probably not much better than my husband's physical hearing. There is so much noise around us: news and messages demanding our attention, music through earbuds to facilitate our escape to some other world that we would rather be in, and background TV that is on everywhere.

Lent is a gift from the church for us to tune into what God is trying to tell us. 

When I was young, I associated Lent with a much deserved "scold" with all the readings and homilies pointing out our faults and follies. It filled me with dread and unshakeable weariness of my own imperfections and vanities. 

In time, my thinking evolved and now I approach Lent as a time of warning -- much like road signs that spell out "Danger," "Do Not Trespass," "Dead End," "Slow," "Mind the Gap" or "Exit." All these messages are meant to alert us, calling for needed behavior before we get into deep trouble.

The prodigal son found great mercy and a much better life when he returned to his father. But he had to take note, acknowledge his mistakes and reverse direction. Lent invites us to do the same.  

The ultimate goal of Lenten exercises is not to avoid punishment, but to end up in that kingdom in which the prodigal son made his home. Yes, Lent reminds us of our faults, but it does not end there. Such examination helps us get out of the ruts that prevent us from living our full potential as children of God: gifted, loved and made in his image.

Lent probes our ways that can be small, suffocating and foolish in light of the real prize. It speaks with a certain urgency to not waste time, to not waste our lives. Most precious for me, Lent offers hope in that my repentance does not all depend on me, but on God's grace that is there for our asking. Lent invites us to ask.

Learning from my husband, perhaps the first step in listening to God is to say, "I can't hear." The second step is to assert and affirm our desire to hear, and to actively place ourselves in the presence of God.

For these 40 days of Lent, we can hang a "reserve" sign on certain moments of the day so we can listen to God through Scripture, the needs of another person and our hearts.

One of my Lenten practices is to keep a journal of my reflections from the daily readings and meditations: They seldom exceed five sentences. During the Easter triduum, I review these and somehow the act feels like a conversation. 

Look, we are all a bit lost. But Jesus reassured us in John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." Lent is that time to turn our ears, minds and hearts to the shepherd's beckoning.

Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.

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By Carolyn Woo | Catholic News Service

There is an ongoing debate in our home on how well my husband can hear. He doesn't always catch the conversation, and particularly so in noisy venues. Sometimes I will loudly convey a message from the bottom of the stairs to his office upstairs. (I guess that would be yelling, but it is such an unattractive image!)

Almost always, David will work hard to get the message: In a crowd, he will cup one ear and lean toward the speaker; at home he will come into the room where I am; and frequently he asks for repetitions. 

One day watching Dave, it hit me that Lent is a time to practice our hearing. For many of us, our spiritual listening skills are probably not much better than my husband's physical hearing. There is so much noise around us: news and messages demanding our attention, music through earbuds to facilitate our escape to some other world that we would rather be in, and background TV that is on everywhere.

Lent is a gift from the church for us to tune into what God is trying to tell us. 

When I was young, I associated Lent with a much deserved "scold" with all the readings and homilies pointing out our faults and follies. It filled me with dread and unshakeable weariness of my own imperfections and vanities. 

In time, my thinking evolved and now I approach Lent as a time of warning -- much like road signs that spell out "Danger," "Do Not Trespass," "Dead End," "Slow," "Mind the Gap" or "Exit." All these messages are meant to alert us, calling for needed behavior before we get into deep trouble.

The prodigal son found great mercy and a much better life when he returned to his father. But he had to take note, acknowledge his mistakes and reverse direction. Lent invites us to do the same.  

The ultimate goal of Lenten exercises is not to avoid punishment, but to end up in that kingdom in which the prodigal son made his home. Yes, Lent reminds us of our faults, but it does not end there. Such examination helps us get out of the ruts that prevent us from living our full potential as children of God: gifted, loved and made in his image.

Lent probes our ways that can be small, suffocating and foolish in light of the real prize. It speaks with a certain urgency to not waste time, to not waste our lives. Most precious for me, Lent offers hope in that my repentance does not all depend on me, but on God's grace that is there for our asking. Lent invites us to ask.

Learning from my husband, perhaps the first step in listening to God is to say, "I can't hear." The second step is to assert and affirm our desire to hear, and to actively place ourselves in the presence of God.

For these 40 days of Lent, we can hang a "reserve" sign on certain moments of the day so we can listen to God through Scripture, the needs of another person and our hearts.

One of my Lenten practices is to keep a journal of my reflections from the daily readings and meditations: They seldom exceed five sentences. During the Easter triduum, I review these and somehow the act feels like a conversation. 

Look, we are all a bit lost. But Jesus reassured us in John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." Lent is that time to turn our ears, minds and hearts to the shepherd's beckoning.

Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.

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