When will we learn to listen?


In our Pledge of Allegiance, we pledge to defend the republic. St. Augustine defines “Republic” in terms of an orchestra. Professional singers have a way of cupping their hands as they sing, so they can hear the other singers. Otherwise, they do not blend their voices and the work suffers. We must listen to the other side, not to their solution, but to their cry. Father Ron Olsen is famous for that gift. The conductor decides the tune.

The Trinity is the conductor of our orchestra and he sets the example by listening. We find examples of this in many places, two of which stand out. The first is the story of the Good Samaritan.

St. John, relates in the story of the Good Samaritan how Jesus is tired from his journey, when he meets a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus has no compelling reason for talking with this woman. She is not Jewish and the Jewish people at the time were very ethnocentric. In Mark 7:25 we have the story of the Syrophoenician woman who Jesus does not want to talk with because she is not Jewish, and she is a she. Jewish men at the time did not converse with women either.

If the story happened today, we would expect the story to occur at some bar in some rusty old town, or in some inner city ghetto. The poor woman would be “Poor White Trash,” or “Poor Trash,” of some other ethnic group.

Another term is “Trailer Trash.” Good people do not converse with this kind. Jesus sets a new example. He does talk with her. As the story progresses, we find Jesus knows what type of woman she is. She is the poor trash who marries, has children, kicks her husband out, then goes out, and gets another. She lives off the largess of the community.

Unlike the conservatives of the time, and our day, Jesus sees in this woman’s behavior a person who is searching for something and not finding it. Jesus also notices how this woman is well schooled in her religious faith. We notice how Jesus never quotes Torah with its rules to this woman. She already knows the rules.

In the November 7 debate at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada, the affirmative speaker made the comment: We sacrifice life and other’s salvation, and for what? Over the past 32 years, I have tried to find the conservative understanding of basic right and wrong, without success. There are more exceptions than cases where the rule applies. Our basic understanding of right and wrong is what re-orients us in a time of crisis, when the world is surreal and the rules do not apply.

The Samaritan woman lives in a time of crisis, when the world is surreal and the rules do not seem to apply. To fill the void she feels in her heart, she looks outside of the rules. The conservative leadership of her day, and ours, insists upon pointing to the rules, then getting frustrated when the poor do not listen. Jesus comes with another way.

If the discussion occurred today, conservatives would correct Jesus for not mentioning the HHS Mandate. Instead, Jesus first, talks with her about who she is as a human being. Then, as soon as he confronts her on her lifestyle, he immediately returns to discussing the common ground in their faith traditions.

We see a similar discussion in the healing of the paralytic. A group of four drops a paralytic down from a roof. Jesus retorts, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” In no place does St. Mark tell us what the “Sin” is, or even if he really has one. This child could be a victim of child abuse, no more guilty of any crime than the rest of us. Jesus asks, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? Which is easier to say? Both choices have exactly seven syllables, and neither is a tongue twister. There is no need do mention an HHS Mandate.

The answer is in the attitude of the speaker. Jesus’ choice is empowerment. Forgiveness causes gratitude, which gives the direction for this child to move so he can go on to live a happy and productive life. Not so, the conservative’s choice. He picks up his mat, and walks, to where, and then what? This requires more direction and more words. The conservative choice leaves them in control, and requires more words; their choice does not stop at seven syllables.

If this child is a victim of child abuse, he requires changes in his world for him to walk again. He needs o understand that his efforts in the past, which did not bear fruit, will bear fruit now. This is not something Jesus can do. This is for the community to do. This is where conservative leadership fails, then and today.

The conservative solution is where, as the affirmative in the 7 November debate at our Cathedral relates; the US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prison population. The conservatives created a world where 5% of the population accounts for 50% of the healthcare costs, and most of these costs are from the poor.

The conservatives grumble about the HHS Mandate. If they had been listening for the past 32 years, they would have learned about the unnecessary suffering of the poor for those past 32 years. They would have looked for solutions, which include making sure all employers, pay a living wage, in this country and overseas. With a living wage, the poor could have purchased their own health insurance and there would be no need for the silly mandate. There would be no need for the large and growing prison industry with all of its costs.

In the debate of 7 November, the conservatives presented some so-called five non-negotiables as if they were Catholic doctrine. They are not. In “The Sanctity of Human Life from Conception to Natural Death, Bishop Samuel J. Aquila does his very best to defend the doctrine.  He does not quote any such encyclical. He does quote EVANGELIUM VITAE and he does quote our Catechism, both of which argue mankind in made in the image of God and therefore is entitled to respect. His quotes do not support some five non-negotiable, which state some lives are more important than others, because they are not born yet.

The affirmative in the debate was right in asking, “When will we learn to listen.”

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