Industrial psychology points out that the time devoted to subjects in school is often inversely proportioned to their use in later life. A businessman will pass one hour a day reading, two hours a day talking and eight hours listening. In school most of the time is devoted to reading, a little bit of speaking and virtually no time for listening. Listening carefully to someone is hard work and demands genuine attention to what the other is saying.
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus cured a deaf man. Jesus made it possible for him to hear. But it would be up to the man to learn how to listen. Most of us can hear, but few of us really listen to each other. The miracle of hearing is already in our grasp. The miracle of listening is yet to be acquired.
One way to test yourself is to see how you listen to your seven-year-old child. You may follow the “children should be seen and not heard” approach. Then you don’t have to listen.
Or you could make the child think you are listening, but your mind is elsewhere. Lastly, you could listen with full attention.
The miracle of listening requires concentration and hard work. Because real listening is so demanding and energy draining, one needs high motivation to keep one’s attention on the other. Only love can motivate us to such deep listening.
Listening and loving produce the same effect. The speaker and the hearer produce the same effect. Our Gospel today says, “People brought to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment. They begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. Jesus went out of his way to help. He took the man off away from the crowd. He put his finger in the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephathata,’ that is, ‘be opened.’” Jesus had listened deeply to the man’s needs and went out of his way to heal him with ceremony and prayer. Perhaps nowhere else is listening more important than in marriage. The universal complaint from couples is that listening to each other is their worst problem. They should just try loving attention. Sadly, most of the time men and women do not want to take the time to deepen their mutual love. Loving attention and listening to each other is essential.
Listening is work. Too many of us are too lazy to listen. We do not want to work that hard. I have heard that some people will pay more than $500 an hour to get a counselor to listen to their troubles. Yet a loved one could and should do that for free. Hugs and bodily affection may help. True listening is the real cure.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.