ONE OF THE MOST FRUSTRATING ASPECTS OF PREACHING THE GOSPEL is the realization that many who are listening are not really listening.

This is nothing new. Here are some references to the problem in Sacred Scripture:

But not even at the present day has the Lord yet given you a mind to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.  Deuteronomy 29, 3

They [pagans] have ears, but hear not.  Psalm 115 ,6

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the handiwork of men.  They have mouths but speak not; they have eyes but see not; they have ears but hear not; nor is there breath in their mouths.  Their makers shall be like them, everyone that trusts in them.  Psalm 135, 15-18

Lead out the people who are blind though they have eyes, who are deaf though they have ears.  Isaiah 43, 8

Pay attention to this, foolish and senseless people who have eyes and see not, who have ears and hear not.  Jeremiah 5, 21

Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house; they have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.  Ezekiel 12, 2

I use parables when I speak to them because they look but do not see, they listen but do not hear or understand.  Matthew 13, 13

Have you eyes but no sight?  Ears but no hearing?  Mark 8, 18

Here are the thoughts of Father George W. Rutler on the subject:

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31) is the only one of the 24 parables that mentions a proper name. Our Lord anticipated the raising of his friend Lazarus, which was the efficient cause of Christ’s arrest. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” More poignantly, Christ is poorer than Lazarus: “Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Dickens most likely was moved by this parable when he wrote his Christmas Carol with the ghost of Jacob Marley returning to warn Scrooge about the course of his life. But in the parable, no ghost returns to warn the rich man’s brothers, because they would refuse to believe. Such is the obtuseness of the human will: In the face of facts, some people withdraw into a parallel universe, like the rich man insulated behind his safe gates. Emile Zola did that when he denied the actual miracle he had witnessed at Lourdes. The saints are likewise ignored by our media because they are a threat to the artificial lifestyle adopted by a synthetic culture slipping into the “netherworld.”

In 1974, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn walked through Paris, bearing the scars of his years in the Gulag. He was a sign of contradiction against the intellectuals who were toying with Marxism without having to pay the price it exacted in the real world. One student at the Sorbonne said that in the few weeks Solzhenitsyn was with them, he exposed the superficiality of their existence. But many continued in their self-absorbed world of illusion.

So it was when Pope Benedict went to the United Kingdom. The media described a looming disaster, and the vitriol against the Pope shocked any fair-minded person. Even sympathetic voices said the trip should be cancelled, rather the way Peter tried to block the path of Jesus to Jerusalem. The singularly uninformed Roger Cohen of the New York Times speculated: “It remains to be seen whether a service Friday in Westminster Abbey, where the coronation of Henry VIII and Catherine was held, can ease tensions. I doubt it.”

The tremendous success of the papal trip converted many, and puzzled others, but there remain those who will not be persuaded “if someone should rise from the dead.” Like a bad weather forecaster, they will blithely continue with no mention of their hollow predictions. Some said the Pope should be denied “the honor of a state visit.” In retrospect, it was the Pope who honored the land he visited, and we can adapt what Punch said when Blessed John Henry Newman was created a cardinal: “’Tis the good and great head that would honor the Hat. Not the Hat that would honor the head.”

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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