Listen, anyone who has ears


An older man listening

An old friend of mine is a cardiologist - a specialist heart doctor. In fact, he is probably the most respected specialist heart doctor in his country. After a stellar academic career, he became at 43 the youngest professor of cardiology in his country’s history. Through his research, he has introduced new techniques and better treatments which have saved the lives of many hundreds of patients. And he is also a good man - a man of great prayer and personal holiness – rather more so than is usual among my friends. He is a good husband and a good father. And he is - or rather was - also a talented rugby player, middle distance runner and a musician. His life had been one long chain of merit and success right up until one day at the age of 48 when he himself had a heart attack.

He is proud of the fact that, having treated so many in other people, he diagnosed it very quickly in himself. And so he was rushed by ambulance to his own hospital. And he lay in the same bed in the same Intensive Care Unit where he had treated so many patients. And he was looked after by the same junior doctors who normally work under his direction. And he was given the same treatment that he had prescribed for so many others.

But since then, he tells me, his entire life has changed. For one thing, he cannot work as hard as he used to - he gets tired more easily. For another, he suddenly knows the meaning of the word ‘fear’ - when you are gripped in the middle of the night by the sudden certain conviction that you too, like all others, must one day die. But most of all, he was shocked, surprised and renewed by the realisation that heart attacks do not happen just to patients, or even just to people in general; they happen to people like me - in fact they happen to me. And not even being the ranking professor of cardiology in the country can prevent it from happening to you. He said it was the best lesson he has ever learned in medicine. And it has transformed his approach to looking after his patients.

This parable of Jesus is a lot like that - if you like, a heart attack for the soul.
“Listen who has ears to hear.”

There is something enormously tempting about parables. And the temptation is this: it is to believe that the parable is about somebody other than myself.

Of course, we all prefer to tell and to listen to stories about other people. It’s called gossip and we all do it. And the reason we all do it is because one way of feeling better about the failures and inadequacies in myself is to point out the failures and inadequacies in other people. So I could tell you endless stories about people who fit into each of the groups in the parable. (Any member of my community will vouch for me on this!)

“Some seed fell on the path”: Well, in my own work as a doctor during the week, I am constantly meeting people who have fallen on the wrong path and are living in ways I think are seriously unwise – and I am full of good advice for how other people can make wise and healthy changes in their lives.

“Some seed fell on stony ground.”
I can tell you about people who became Christians with great enthusiasm and went to Bible study every night - and a year later had given up being Christians at all, because there was no depth and strength in their Christianity.

“Some seed fell among thorns.”
Well, I can tell you all about people who rejected the love of God and the love of humanity and had their lives destroyed by alcohol, drugs and disease.

But that is not the point.
Listen anyone who has ears.
This parable is not about other people; this parable is about ME and each one of us.
What part of the problem am I?
What part of the solution can I become?
What are the ways in which I have lacked commitment to the Lord and strength in His Faith?
What are the ways in which I have failed the community of the Church?
What are the ways I need to change?
What is it that I have to allow God to do in my heart so that I can be the person He created me to be?
What is that I must do yield a harvest, 30 and 60 and 100-fold?

The answer to those questions is individual for each of us. For once in my life I prescribe no answers. But I would like to ask that we – each of us – spend this Eucharist reflecting on the question for ourselves.
Who is the person God created me to be?
What were the hopes that God had when I was born?
And what is it possible that God can still do in my life to bear fruit for the Kingdom?
Let us pray that we may be given the grace to judge only ourselves and that each of us may find our part in God’s harvest.

And let us profess our Faith in God who gives the increase.

Paul O'Reilly SJ