Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside
I NEVER thought I would be enjoying watching a graduation ceremony on television. But I was. More strangely still, no one among the graduating students were related to me. I kept asking myself why I was not switching the channel. Then I realized there was something in the family of one graduating medical student that I could relate to. They were also poor. The wonder was now they had a doctor in the family. Before I knew it the television correspondent was interviewing the now widely grinning graduate. He was asked how he managed, despite his family’s circumstances, to have graduated with flying colors from medical school. He said simply and directly, “Oh, I just listened to both my parents. They told me to study hard so I don’t lose my scholarship, and not to spend unnecessarily. I’m grateful to the Lord I had parents who guided me throughout my years in medical school.” Wow, I said to myself. Then the parents were also interviewed. They were a simple and shy couple in their sixties. They were asked what they could say now that their son was a doctor. They looked at each other and said, “We’re just thankful to the Lord our son listened to us all these years…”
Listening as an essential key to success is seldom talked about. But it is. The medical student in our story is only one example. And it is not only true to the secular education. It is as much true to our spiritual life as well, and to our discipleship. In the book of Genesis, Jacob gathers his sons and counsels them: “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father…(Gen 49:2).” What are they to listen to? To their father’s word of blessing raising Judah to a position of leadership in the family and in mysterious words prophesying an unworldly and indestructible lofty stature throughout the succeeding generations. “You, Judah, shall your brothers praise—your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, while tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage (Gen 49:8, 10).” From our perspective as Christians, we know this is to be fulfilled when from out of Judah the Messiah will be born. The first name in the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel is Judah. The last is that of Jesus, the Messiah, his descendant. The point is, Judah’s word’s were not his but God’s. His sons’ listening to his words indicates the right response to God’s revelation of his will and plan through their father.
The reason is that listening is the first moment of faith. It is a sine-qua-non moment of faith. That is to say, without listening faith is not possible. Hence, Pope Benedict XVI once counseled that we imitate a model ‘listen-er’ in the gospel of John. “The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (Jn 4:14)” (Porta Fidei, n. 3). But in the same way that the sons of Judah listened to God’s word through their father, we need to listen to the Word of the living God today through the living Word Jesus Christ as proclaimed to us by the Church. So continues Benedict XVI: “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (Jn 6:51)” (PF 3).
I once heard about a man being told by his sister, a doctor, that he was overweight and had to diet. He stopped eating for a day. He was asked if he was hungry. He said, “No”. But before he knew it, he ate all the cake in the refrigerator when he opened it looking for water. Fortunately or unfortunately, his sister saw it all and said, “When you diet, it doesn’t mean you don’t eat anything. It only means you should eat the right food in the right way.”
Sometimes I think we could be in that man’s shoes. Remember when teachers used to say of some students, “Overfed but undernourished”? Does it occur to you and me we could fit this description? For instance, could we not be overfed by too much television, too much internet, the media and other such fare we consider ordinary, even a must, in today’s world? These are things that are basically good but need we not take a caveat, admitting this goodness including the added fact that it is a goodness so incomplete as to be anything but satisfying (we are not even talking here about the other consequences). Do we really feed ourselves with the right diet of God’s Word and the Eucharist, the Bread of Life? Isn’t the Church our last recourse for any such thing?
Still, we hear it affirmed again and again, i.e., that to truly be happy and to grow in real happiness the right diet is a must (in the physical and spiritual worlds). Again, Benedict XVI pointed to us why. “Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with same power, ‘Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’ (Jn 6:27). The question posed by his listeners is the same we ask today: ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ (Jn 6:28). We know Jesus’ reply: ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (Jn 6:29)” (PF 3).
If our believing is God’s work in us, then our listening to ‘him whom he has sent’ is the beginning of our work for God.