On the day of the conclusion of the Synod on Youth just a few weeks ago on the last Sunday of October, Pope Francis reflected on one of his favorite themes which is the need to be silent and to listen. He gives us good advice in this regard as we prepare to enter into the Advent season. In his homily for the concluding Mass of the Synod, the Pope said, “How important it is for us to listen to life! … God never grows tired; He is always happy when we seek Him. May we too ask for the grace of a heart that listens.” Pope Francis reminded us that we carry out God’s work in closeness to Him. He emphasized that “the apostolate of the ear” is essential to this closeness. We cannot come close to the Lord unless we listen to Him in silence and know His loving presence among us. In this manner we are able to communicate our faith to others. Advent affords us a special opportunity to cultivate “the apostolate of the ear” by listening to the Lord as He speaks to us each day.
During the season of Advent we need to take time to listen to the Lord by listening as He speaks to us in the events of our lives. We truly experience Him in the beauty of the world which He has created for us. We experience Him in the beauty of the height of His creation which is humanity. For most of us, He is before us in our families each and every day. He is before us in our friends, with those with whom we work and collaborate, and also in those who are far away from us and, in the words of Pope Francis, on the periphery. Advent is a good time to exercise “the apostolate of the ear” by listening to the Lord as He speaks to us in the ordinary, which are truly not so ordinary, people and events of our lives. We need to take time to listen to God in prayer, not so much in the multiplication of words, but truly in the silence of our hearts where the Lord is most present. St. Augustine reminds us that “to spend a long time in prayer is not the same thing as to pray ‘with much speaking.’ Multiplied words are one thing, long continued warmth of desire is another.” This is at the heart of the “apostolate of the ear.”
We do need silence during Advent, but we cannot escape what is before us. We need to strike a difficult balance. It is tempting to think that it would be easier to listen to God during Advent in a monastery where there are no distractions. However, even monks get attuned to their surroundings and have to be quite attentive to the silence which can become second nature. Indeed, silence, not properly lived in, can become a distraction. The silence is not primary – it is listening that is – “the apostolate of the ear.” We also need to use the distractions of the season to discover God and what is before us. St. Paul of the Cross gives us sound advice in his words, “Build a monastery in your heart. … This will not prevent you from giving full attention to your family and other responsibilities.”
As we prepare to enter into the season of Advent, may we listen more attentively to the presence of God in our lives by planning to be silent during a very hectic time of the year. A blessed Advent to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito