The season of Advent is upon us. Advent affords us the opportunity to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Birth of Christ at Christmas. It brings to us time to listen to the Lord as He speaks to us each and every day in our lives. There is a certain quietness that is appropriate for the Advent season. However, with so many things to take care of in preparation for Christmas, we can sometimes become overinvolved in activity that leads to unrest and disquiet. We are so busy sending cards, attending parties, shopping for gifts and decorating that it becomes very easy to lose sight of why we are doing all of these things. In addition, we have our daily lives and occupations to take care of as well as the many other matters that may come our way. At this time, right after Thanksgiving, we have a good opportunity to plan a season of Advent that will bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord as we celebrate His birth with our families at Christmas. It is critical to have time for silence during the Advent Season.
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.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI often reminded us of the importance of listening to God in silence. He truly was an advocate of “the apostolate of the ear." He spoke of the many distractions which occur within our world and society and distract us from the silence which is necessary to hear God. In fact, he emphasized that there is a great deal of noise within the world precisely because it is afraid to distance itself from an abundance of activity and distraction. It is only in silence that we can appreciate the loving presence of the Lord. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI used the example of the prayer of Jesus as the supreme example of listening in prayer. He gave good advice for Advent during one of his Wednesday audiences of Lent when he said, "The prayer of Jesus indicates to us who are often preoccupied by the efficiency of our work and the concrete results we achieve that we need to stop and to experience moments of intimacy with God, 'detaching ourselves' from the daily din in order to listen, to go to the 'root' that supports and nourishes life. One of the most beautiful moments in the prayer of Jesus is precisely the moment when He – in order to face the disease, distress and limitations of His interlocutors – turns to His Father in prayer, thus teaching those around Him where the source of hope and salvation is to be sought."
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
November 23, 2018