Friday, December 9, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

This word of God
is asking us to have
a different attitude
to, well, close it,
zip it, and to listen
not just with our ears.
Transcript of homily recorded on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 (Friday of the Second Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

I had a couple come to me in my last parish. They had been married civilly for seven years and they wanted to get married by the church; they didn't have any children. I sent them on the customary retreat, the one-day retreat. They were both very intelligent people. She was a head nurse, so she supervised people; and he was a manager in a power company, and he also supervised people. They both were trained in doing conflict resolution and all those things that would help to sort out problems in a company and make them better.

But in their marriage, they argued constantly. So they go on this retreat, and when they came I always do what I call my "debrief" and I sat them down and I said, "Well, what did you get out of the retreat? Can you name one thing — anything — that really touched you, that benefited you as a couple or you as an individual?" And so they looked at me, they both looked at each other, a little smile came over their face, and she looked back and she said, "Well, father, we learned how to listen to each other."

So I said to her, "Well, I understand what those words mean, but how do you mean it? How did you learn to listen to each other?"

So she said, "Well, first of all, I think we both agreed that we both do this equally, so I'm not saying he's worse than I am or anything, but we interrupt each other all the time. One goes to speak, the other one enters a comment or a commentary and there's always these detours."

This is how she described it: "Let's say I call my husband. I want to tell him something here that I come to understand, so I say, 'Honey, today I was talking to my boss' and he interrupts — 'That idiot! Why would you talk to him?! Blah blah blah blah blah!'"

And there's a little argument. So she finally calms him down, says, "Wait a minute. So I called my sister. 'Not Olivia! She is a such a jerk!'" — he's attacking her family now.

It was like that the whole conversation — interruption, interruption, interruption; argument, argument, argument.

So she said, "We learned a new technique called 'time out.'"

I said, "Tell me more.

And she said, "OK. So I say, 'Honey, I was talking to my boss today-' 'That idiot how can you-" — 'time out!'" And the rule was, now he had to zip it and just listen, couldn't interrupt — time out.

As she went through her whole list — he had all the thoughts: "Your sister, oh, that-"; "Your mother, oh, you should marry her"; he was thinking it, but he didn't interrupt so there was no argument, there was no detour, there's no interruption, there's no commentary that insulted or hurt and she was able to finish her whole thought without any interruption from him. And she said, the results were always the same now. Usually it was, wow, I understand what you're saying. You know how I feel about all these people, but what you said is logical and I agree with you; or basically I agree with you, but this one comment of your mother, oh, too much but, no, it still makes sense. Or, honey, I disagree with you completely, and it's not because my feelings about these people, you know those, but he said this, I don't agree; she said this, I don't think that makes sense; she said this, but look at the facts.

And then she said this, and this was the most astounding thing, she said, "Father Perry, I can't believe it. Ninety-five percent of our arguing is gone now. We really hear each other. And it's amazing."

And then she said, "But you know what's so sad? How much we fought for seven years because we couldn't listen to each other."

It's that simple. It really is. Any two people — and I include me — I think I'm always right. Of course I am. I know everything. Of course I do. Even things I know nothing about, I put my opinion in like it's intelligent and oftentimes it's not very intelligent. People just want to win. But when we listen, we really listen — and not just to a word or to people's logical statements — but to their feelings about it. If we really heard someone say this: "You know, when you say that, it really hurts, and I wish you wouldn't." People hear that. I think most people are sensitive enough to say, "Wow, I didn't mean to hurt you. I'll stop saying it."

The word of God today says it in another way: "I, the Lord your God, teach you what is good for you and lead you on the way you should go. If you would harken to my commandments" — or in other words — "If you would listen to me" — in other words, if you could hear my voice — "Your prosperity would be like a river and your vindication like the waves of the sea."

Or the psalm said: "Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life. Bless the man (or the woman) who follows not the counsel of the wicked" — who doesn't listen to them — "who doesn't walk in the way of sinners or sit in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord." Or, in other words, listens to the law of the Lord. Or, in other words, listens to the law of the Lord. Or, in other words, hears your voice, oh, Lord, and meditates on this law day and night. "Like a tree planted near running water, gives fruit into season, leaves never fade."

Or, in the Gospel: "To what shall I compare this generation? Like children in the marketplace who call to one another. We played the flute, but you didn't dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn." We did all these things and you didn't do what we wanted. And then he says, it's like people who see they see John, he's fasting, and they say, "He's possessed by a demon!" Jesus doesn't fast, they say he's a drunk and a glutton. In other words, we see it our way, only our way, and you're not fitting into our pattern. But once again, Jesus is saying, "Wisdom is vindicated by our works. Listen, look, see the truth. Take it in."

Communication is difficult, it really is. And I think — at least what I hear in my own life and in the confessional and the office and in my inner dealings with people — in a very, very materialistic and high-powered and noisy society, we don't get too many chances. Most of us, I think, we have an opinion, we want what we want, we want if fast. This word of God is asking us to have a different attitude to, well, close it, zip it, and to listen not just with our ears or our mind, but with our hearts and try to make a different connection — first of all, with ourselves, just to be connected. Second of all — and it really isn't second — with our God. I mean, he gives us the command, "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength"; "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

It seems to me that in this season like this where we have four weeks to prepare for Christmas, it is so that we don't go from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25 — oh, it's Christmas — but we've had four weeks of listening; four weeks of absorbing; four weeks of being quiet; four weeks of waiting; four weeks of anticipating; four weeks of opening, opening, opening, so that when it comes, we can hear and see everything, we can get it, we can find the power, find the life, find the truth.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

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