One of my favorite sentences in the Rule of St. Benedict is found in the Prologue. Obsculta… et inclina auren cordis tui– “Listen…and incline the ear of your heart.” Benedict wants his followers to listen with the ear of their heart. It is interesting that the most common word for “to listen” in Hebrew comes from the same root as the word for “ear.”
The word “heart” is used in Scripture as the core and strength of human life. The biblical heart consists of the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, ethical, and volitional dimensions that characterize humans. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (The Little Prince).
At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Catholic Eucharistic Liturgy, the celebrant says, “lift up your hearts “and the assembly response is “we lift them up to the Lord.” Yes, we are to lift up our whole person to the God who gave us His Son- the Son who surrendered his own heart to each of us.
The Jesus of Nazareth listened with his whole heart. In listening to people, he comforted, rejoiced and challenged. Sometimes in listening to others, Jesus became discouraged, frustrated, and saddened when people only listened with their external ears and not with the ears of their heart. “You will listen again and again, but not understand…for the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing…for fear they should…hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted and healed by me” (Mt. 13: 14:15). Jesus must have been frustrated with the disciples when he said, “…do you not have ears to hear” (Mk. 8:18)? In exasperation, have you ever said these words? If so, you are not alone.
Listening to others was also a source of encouragement to Jesus. The centurion asking Jesus to heal his son said, “’You don’t have to come to my house, just say the word and my son will be healed.’ Jesus was astonished and said to those following Him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this’”(Mt.8:10).
Listening with the ear of our heart is the central core of discipleship. One who listens takes on the posture of servant-disciple. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9). “The Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple’s tongue so I may know how to reply to the wearied. He provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear” (Is. 50:4-5). For the prophet, listening is so important that he identifies it as the purpose for waking.
For Benedict, listening with the ear of our heart is the foundational attitude from which our actions should flow.
Are we attuned to listening with the ear of our heart to God’s revelation? Try listening to the heartbeat of God through the Scriptures. Listen to your own heartbeat. Listen to God through your family, friends, and your community. Listen to God’s presence in the events and circumstances of your life. Listen to how God is revealing redemptive powers of love to you.
“This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to him” (Lk. 9:35).
Let’s develop a listening stance by inclining the ear of our heart as a way of life.
By Sister Marie A. Leonard, OSB