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The Ear of Christ

We are delighted to wecome our fourth guest blogger, Michael Centore. Michael is a new friend of the Pentecost Vigil Project and represents for us one of the signs of the Holy Spirit at work: tha gathering of believers who would otherwise not have met. Join us in welcoming Michael!


Paul’s image of a “body” in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (12:12-27; cf. Rom 12:4-5) as a way to explain the

interdependent relationship of all believers to each other and to Christ has long been a staple of contemplative practice. To conceive, first, what part of the Body of Christ we might be, and then to tailor our prayer and align our action to this conception, is a continual process of discernment. We may be different parts at different times, just as we may more closely identify with various characters in the gospel parables depending on our station in life.

Lately I have been meditating on what it means to be an “ear” of Christ. I have been partially spurred to this by my work as an editor, whose job it is to “hear” the inner voice of an author, and to digest, distill, and connect disparate texts to present them as a unified whole, and partially by my participation in a small Christian community whose spiritual efficacy depends on participants’ ability to listen and respond to one another. But looming behind my meditation, aside from any personal situation, is the culture of synodality that has infused the church and is already beginning to reorient our perspective from an individualistic, “vertical” faith to something more horizontal and solidaristic—the via collectiva, or “collective way,” that seeks to place our personal goals at the disposal of the comm on good.

There are some wonderful resources available to help us connect the practice of “transformative listening” with the aims and intentions of synodality, including the document Towards a Spirituality of Synodality prepared by the Synod’s Spirituality Commission Subgroup and the Synod Secretariat’s brief overview of the “Spiritual Conversation” method. Sr. Laurence Loubières, XMCJ, director of the Service for Discernment in Common, a service of the Jesuit Province of Canada, has also provided essays, webinars, and slide presentations that elaborate on this theme with helpful real-world examples.


In dialogue with these resources, we can begin to contemplate more deeply the image of the “ear” of Christ, as both a part of his corporeal and his Mystical Body. I start by isolating the ear’s anatomical structure: tucked off to the side of the face, it is rarely the first thing we notice about a person; it may be hidden beneath hair or a head covering, as we see in the figures of many Orthodox icons, lending it a feeling of being secreted away from the rest of the features. Unlike the eyes that can flicker and dart expressively, or the mouth and tongue that can move at will, the ear is stationary and receptive. In this it can be likened to the heart of one pursuing stillness, or hesychia, a comparison the late Kallistos Ware adumbrated in an essay on the Jesus Prayer:


Silence is not merely negative, a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech—but, properly understood, it is highly positive: an attitude of attentive alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening. The hesychast, the person who has attained hesychia, inner stillness or silence, is par excellence the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his own but that of Another speaking within him.


To push the comparison even further, we might consider the tripartite structure of the bones within the middle ear: just as the three Persons of the Trinity are operative within our own hearts, drawing us “into their orbit,” as it were, as we allow ourselves to synchronize with the rotation of love that cycles from the Father to the Son and is returned through the Holy Spirit, so do the three bones of the ear operate together to facilitate the transmission of sound; and just as the Trinity reveals to us the inner workings of God’s nature that would be otherwise unintelligible, so does the “trinity” of bones within the ear help transmute a series of unintelligible vibrations into electrical signals that our brain can then detect, process, and reflect upon.

From here it is a short step to contemplating the ear of Christ as the second Person of the Trinity—the human Christ, the Son who walks among us. My thoughts turn to the image of him and his disciples passing through the fields on the Sabbath (Matt 12:1)—and not just for the pun on the “ears” of grain they pick, and for which they are reprimanded by the Pharisees, but because the scene has always conveyed to me Christ’s unique relationship to nature. I visualize him listening to the breeze over the grass, the thrush of his garments as they brush against the grain: here is the architect of the cosmos attuned to the sounds of his own creation, a bit like the ocean lifting a conch shell to its ear to hear the sound of its own roar.

Christ clearly values the spiritual practice of listening throughout the gospels. The verb “hear” or “listen” is used as an exhortation (Matt 11:15, 13:9); to introduce teachings and parables (Matt 15:10, Mark 4:3); as a sign of unification between himself and his disciples (Luke 10:16); and as a means of disclosing mystical truths (John 18:37). Even at the supreme moment of his transfiguration, when the fullness of his divinity is revealed as the uncreated light irradiates his physical body, the command given by his Father is not to follow, nor emulate, nor imitate, but to listen to him (Matt 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). The implication is that listening is the first step or “seed” of discipleship: by listening to the Word of God as the prophet Isaiah enjoins (“Be attentive to me, my people; my folk, give ear to me” [51:4]), the process of interior transformation in Christ is inaugurated, and by letting that Word “dwell in [us] richly” (Col 3:16), it naturally follows that we begin to comport ourselves to Christ and reflect that comportment in our thoughts, words, and actions.

To be, then, “ears” of the Mystical Body of Christ means to listen bidirectionally: both to the internal, inflected Word that is tuned to the pitch of our present spiritual need, and to the Word that comes to us externally, through the sounds of creation moving ever toward its apocatastasis, or ultimate restoration in the love of God (2 Pet 3:13). Saint Charles de Foucauld gets at something like this when he writes in a meditation on Psalm 27, “His interior word in the depths of our souls has come to us as the effects produced by lightning and thunder in the natural world.” And the British poet Alice Oswald captures this feeling of fluidity between the internal and external Word in these lines from her poem “Owl Village”:


and you and I—comprehension burst its container

twice, in that the ear

extends through us beyond the ear—


There is a final step in understanding ourselves as “ears” of Christ, and this is to see them not as isolated entities but as bound up with the life of the Mystical Body. It is precisely in recognizing this interdependence that we come to the fullest awareness of our own unique vocation in Christ, as Fr. Vincent Pizzuto explains in his illuminating work of spiritual counsel, Contemplating Christ:


I am the hand, foot, eye, ear of Christ. To realize this is to realize myself as an alter Christus because one cannot realize oneself as hand, foot, eye, or ear of Christ without at once realizing “I am” Christ. My deepest “I” does not refer to my identity as “hand” or “foot” or “eye” but to the Body of which these members are a part. Or, put otherwise, Christ can look upon his hand and say, “It is I.” Christ can look upon his foot and say, “It is I.” My deepest “I” is always “Christ,” not merely the member of the body that I manifest.


The practice of synodal listening invites us to go beyond the dualities of interior and exterior and the divisions of the members of the Body of Christ. We are asked to listen to the other as an alter Christus—literally, “another Christ”—who both manifests Christ’s presence to us and cooperates with us as another part of the Body. This changes the tenor of our listening and its attendant duties. We are attuned not merely to the “sounds” of creation but to its very summit: the human person who is made in the image and likeness of God. Our task is to receive and reflect the Trinitarian movement in the other even as we recognize it in ourselves, and it is at this point of mutual indwelling that Christ is revealed to the world.


Michael Centore is the editor of Today’s American Catholic (“TAC”), a journal of inquiry, reflection, and opinion (and a proud partner of the Pentecost Vigil Project) that seeks to promote religious dialogue and deepen the faith of its readers. At TAC, he has hosted

events with award-winning authors, theologians, and activists and led consultations for the Synod on Synodality. His essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books , U.S. Catholic , Religious Socialism , Killing the Buddha , and other print- and web-based

publications.


Image courtesy of Unsplash/Dylann Hendricks



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