Special Messsage for lay ministers
Editor’s note: Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily at the June 5 Blessing and Commissioning of Pastoral Lay Ministers follows:
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I yearn for peace and quiet…away from the noise that fills our airspace. We treasure such periods of rest for our sensitive ears. But do you know how much more difficult it would be to find a moment of peace and quiet if our ears were only a bit more sensitive?
Were our ears three times more powerful, we would be tuned into our own heart beats. Were they five times more powerful, we would hear what field mice were saying. If they were seven times as powerful, we would hear what bats were saying. And as the din grew louder, as more of nature’s secret sounds assaulted our sense of hearing, the possibilities for peace and quiet would decrease proportionately. If our ears were exposed to all sound, the roar would be intolerable; deafening. In nature’s grand design, there are sounds which are not intended to be heard with the naked human ear.
Scientists tell us that the deaf person who suddenly recovers his or her hearing is likely to find exposure to the world of sound a frightening experience. During the adjustment period it is not uncommon for the cured person to seek to return to the world of silence. It takes time and conditioning to learn how to interpret sounds, how to distinguish between those which threaten and those which do not, in other words, it takes time and conditioning in order to learn how to listen. Being born with the ability to hear is not of our doing, but the ability to listen is an art that we must develop ourselves.
Soon to be commissioned ministers--the ability to listen, to truly listen is a tremendous gift that we can give, that we must give to all those with whom we come in contact. My sisters and brothers, when we give to those we serve, as well as our co-workers, the feeling that what they think and what they say are worth listening to and remembering, we are offering them the precious gift of love.
In our reading this afternoon, St. Paul tells the Romans that their love must be sincere: “love one another with mutual affection: anticipate one another in showing honor.” As a commissioned minister of the Church, there is no better way to communicate that love than by being an active listener. Absolutely everything that we do in ministry must be motivated by an earnest effort to be about doing the will of God. Prayer, a disciplined prayer life, is where we set time aside to be quiet, to listen and discern the Father’s will, as we just heard St. Paul tell the Romans. Prayer is the school where we learn how to listen. Our ministry is shallow, insincere and a mere façade, without the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that develops in our prayer.
In our ministry, no matter where it takes us in our individual parishes, we must become active listeners. When we minister in Jesus’ Name, we must be willing to give more than the polite nod of the head, but tap into the very heart (as much as one is able) so that genuine listening can happen. This means I must put aside my agenda, my need to say something and begin listening. As one member of this class of Formation for Ministry penned so well in A Ministry Prayer, “Jesus I will, with your help, listen with my heart.”
You see, “Listening implies the extraordinary ability to pause, to stop reflectively and to bring within, to make one’s own that which someone else is sending our way, offering to us for our consideration.” (Marino) Such communication is more than the fleeting and often superficial communication made available by the technologies of email, texting, tweeting. Never have so many said so much and so little at the same time.
Countless times when I would make communion calls in the parishes to which I was assigned, the parishioner would tell me about the deacon or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or the Legion of Mary member, who would visit them and listen to what was going on in their lives. That’s being Church, that’s honoring another member of the One Body of Christ. That’s giving dignity to the person made in the image and likeness of God.
If you are a catechist, a teacher, it is so important that you listen to the life story of the student. Hear the things that he or she is saying and not saying. It’s all about paying attention to the other person. The story is told of a famous author who was cared for as a child by a peasant woman after his mother had died. For about eight years during this period of his life, the author was blind. Years later, he had this to say about the woman who cared for him: This woman, Martha was her name, took loving care of me. I remember she was a big woman and she must have really loved me because I remember those eight years of blindness in my childhood as essentially a happy time of my life. I remember a lot of talk and a lot of laughter. I must have talked a great deal as a child because Martha used to say to me again and again, “Do you remember when you said this” Do you remember when you said that?” And I realized that she had been listening to me and remembered what I said. And all my life I have had this feeling about myself: that what I think and what I say are worth listening to and remembering. This is the gift she gave me!
My sisters and brothers, may each of you be such a gift bearer to your parishioners. I know that these last two years, you have been listening and remembering all the materials that your instructors offered you as they sought to help with the renewal of your minds through instruction about our Catholic faith. I want to thank them, Heidi Macko and all of the members of the Formation for Ministry and Christian Formation staff, for their strong support.
It’s no secret the Church of the North Country will rely more and more on your ministry in the local parish. Your communication with and support of the pastor is crucial for effective collaborative ministry. The Diocese of Ogdensburg and your home parish are so very proud of your commitment and strong faith. Remember, too, that you are co-missioned—that is, missioned with your sisters and brothers, members of the one Body of Christ. We never serve alone.
Thank you for learning more about your faith and committing to sharing it. The grace you received on the day of your baptism is being embraced and will multiply a hundredfold. This is truly an inspiring and exciting time for you and for the Church of Ogdensburg. Last week we ordained a new deacon for the local Church and today we commission all of you to help build up the Body of Christ. Let us continue to pray for one another, discerning God’s will as we listen and minister to our sisters and brothers. May God be praised...forever may God be praised!