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A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark 6: 14-29
The Gospel Reading may be found at https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/020323.cfm
(Artist Unknown, Internet Image from Miles)
St Augustine wrote of the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist,
A girl dances, a mother rages, there is rash swearing in the midst of the luxurious feast, and an impious fulfillment of what was sworn. (as quoted in Ooten)
This is such a terrible and sad summary. It didn’t have to be this way. We know from the Gospel that,
“Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20 NABRE)
If Herod really listened to St John the Baptist, it is not apparent from his actions. We read that Herod knew John to be righteous and holy. He liked to listen to him. He knew what John was saying was true; yet we hear that he was “perplexed”. The word perplexed is taken from the Greek, apŏrĕō (ἀπορέω) meaning being mentally at a loss or to refuse to understand. Herod heard St John, but he did not really listen. We also know from the Gospel that Herod heard about Jesus (Mark 6:14). Unfortunately, he just heard, when he should have listened. Had Herod really listened to St John the Baptist, to Jesus, perhaps Herod would have received the Gospel, come to repent, and prevented the tragedy that unfolded with that terrible dance.
Listening is problematic for us. How often have we attended Mass and as the lector sits down, we have forgotten all that we heard. That has happened to me more than once. Somewhere during the reading, my mind wandered and the next thing I knew, the lector was sitting down. It was not intentional. I got distracted and missed the reading. I heard the reading proclaimed, but did I listen? The answer is, “no.”
Perhaps this is not an uncommon phenomenon. When I was first ordained and began to preach, people would come up to me and say, “Deacon, I really enjoyed your homily.” I would then ask them, what struck you, or what did you like best. Often, I would get a perplexed stare and a mumbled, “I don’t really know, I just liked it”. They would then depart at the very first opportunity. I got the feeling that they may have heard the homily, but they did not really listen. I don’t ask that question anymore.
Dr Kristen Fuller, a psychiatrist in an article for Psychology Today, writes that people often use the words “hearing” and “listening” interchangeably and mistake them for the same meaning. She writes; “Yet, there are significant differences between the two, with one being more active, requiring effort, and the other being involuntary and natural.” (Fuller)
Fuller states that hearing is a passive activity.
To hear, we receive a perception of sound. We may take in a few phrases, but it never penetrates our thoughts. We can, at most, know that we liked what we heard, but never recall anything beyond that. Hearing does not rely on concentration. It is like mindlessly collecting data. We hear sounds and words, but we are not listening.
Listening requires the mind to pay attention to the words.
Listening allows us to absorb the meaning of words and develop an emotional response. Merriam-Webster defines listening as hearing something with thoughtful attention. Listening is a decision. It is a voluntary act of concentration, thoughtful internalization of the spoken word, and then a resulting action.
Listening is an active process, whereas hearing is passive. Listening requires paying attention. Hearing requires no concentration or attention skills. Listening requires empathy and curiosity, whereas the hearer is often disconnected. Listening is an internal behavior that involves both the mind and body, whereas hearing is a physical act that only involves the ears. Mostly, listening requires patience. St Paul identifies patience as love (1 Cor 13:4). Then, isn’t listening an act of love?
Scripture was written to be proclaimed to the people at Mass. It is God speaking to us so it is written to be listened to. A good lector, deacon, or priest can read or proclaim the Scriptures such that we can hear the voice its author. A good preparation for Mass is to read the readings before Mass and then to put away the books and the phones during Mass so that you can truly listen to the Word proclaimed. This is to allow yourself to attentively listen such that you can discern the voice. A good lector, deacon, priest, must always strive to bring life to the reading. Scripture was meant to be proclaimed and listened to.
Had Herod only listened to St John. Had he only taken what he perceived to be good and holy, and lived that way. Yet, the world rarely takes the time to listen. It is too distracted and self-important. This is the case especially when it hears something it does not like. But that is not the point! So many like to be liked. It is a trap. It is more important to proclaim truth in love. The purpose of the readings in Mass, and especially the homily, is not to give you a fluffy feel-good feeling. They are intended to challenge you to live the Gospel. The fruit of the reading or homily depends on how well one listens. So, listen! The Lord is speaking. God the Father’s instructions to us at our Lord’s baptism is to, “listen to Him” (Matt 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). Don’t just hear, listen!
Let us pray with St Blaise, whose feast we celebrate today,
“Father of mercy and God of all consolation … Overshadow me with Your loving kindness, and let this divine Mystery bear fruit in me.”
Fuller, Kristen. “The Difference between Hearing and Listening.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 8 July 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/202107/the-difference-between-hearing-and-listening.
Miles, Jonathan. “A Prophetic Minority (Again).” Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc, 20 June 2015, https://midwestoutreach.org/2013/10/10/a-prophetic-minority-again/.
Oden, Thomas C., and Christopher A. Hall, eds. Mark (Revised). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Print. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.