When I first got started in youth ministry in the mid-nineties, we used to perform a skit called “Weez Chickens.” The basic premise of the skit was that a speaker would begin to talk, only to be interrupted by the rest of the team who would flood the stage acting like chickens. When the annoyed speaker would ask the rest of us what we were doing we’d reply we is chickens! The speaker would ask why do you think you’re chickens? And we’d all reply we’ve been clucking around here so long, we must be chickens! The gag would continue with us coming up with other examples such as bees=buzzing around here, eggs=laying around here, and so on… until the last sequence would have us walk in doing typical Churchy things: one person would be reading a Bible, another making multiple signs of the Cross, another praying the Rosary, etc. When the speaker would ask what we were doing this time, we’d reply: we is Christians… because we do all these holy things. It would lead into a short talk on how being a Christian is about more than just the things you do – it’s about who you are.
This old skit is one of the first things that came to mind when I finally got to read Archbishop Smith’s pastoral letter, Living in the Word of God, which was released today by the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
Archbishop Smith framed this letter, a challenge to draw closer to the Word of God, with a simple question: what does it mean to follow Jesus? The answer – drawn from Luke 8:19-21 – is all about hearing the Word of God and living it out. In the words of Pope Francis:
These are the two conditions in order to follow Jesus: to listen to the word of God, and to put it into practice. This is the Christian life, nothing more.
Those two ideas – listening to the word of God and putting it into practice – are a great tool for personal reflection, and are also (as I understand it) going to set the course for pastoral work in our diocese over the next few years.
Archbishop Smith writes that “…the first act of the disciple is to listen carefully to what God is saying to us in the words of Jesus.” Obviously, we hear God’s word when we go to Mass on Sunday, but the challenge levelled at us is to find some time each day to listen to the word of God – he suggests a minimum of ten minutes. It’s true that many of us are very busy, we can always find time for the things we believe to be the most important (think of how much time you spend scrolling your favorite social media feed or looking at memes). At a time when most of us have access to a full Bible in our pockets each day – between online Bible websites and Bible study apps (my favorite is OliveTree) – we have never had such obvious and immediate access to scripture as we do today. All he’s asking is that we give it ten minutes!
Those of us living in families have a second challenge – we’re to listen to the Word of God with our families, including a verse of scripture with our grace at meals, setting up prayer space in our homes, and making sure we take some time after Mass to discuss each week’s Sunday homily.
Outside the family, there are opportunities to dive in and hear the word – from Bible studies to experiences of Lectio Divina, keep your eyes and ears open for those opportunities that will come up to dive into the word with others… you never know when someone else’s insight will help you better hear God’s voice through a particular passage of scripture.
The second part of the letter, on putting the word of God into practice, centers on the three traditional ways Christians respond to God’s love: in worship, witness, and service, all of which flow from the mercy of God.
Archbishop Smith writes that “The very heart of all worship is the sacrament of the Eucharist.” The Eucharist (the Mass) represents the heartbeat of Christian living – and so our week is designed to flow from Sunday to Sunday, where we come to be nourished by Christ’s word and His body, and we’re sent forth into whatever each week will bring.
When we look at the area of witness, it has often been said that faith is caught and not taught. That may be a little simplistic, as we do need to learn (and be taught) about our faith – but it’s certainly true that “people pay more attention to what we do than to what we say” (AB Smith). The challenge here is to first take stock of our lives and make sure we are living an authentic witness of the Christian life; and then to ensure that we are also able give an answer to anyone who asks us what the reason for our hope is (1 Peter 3:15).
Christian service can take on many forms. In recent years, as we’ve examined this, we’ve begun to speak of Christian service as our call to love as Jesus loved – to put at the disposal of others our time, our talents, and our financial resources. This often involves making sacrifices and always involves imitating Christ who, on the night before His Passion and death, got down on his knees to wash dirty feet (John 13).
After a brief reflection on our call to know and share God’s mercy, Archbishop Smith asks a critical question and offers a profound response:
Whose word do I, in fact, hear and follow? …there is only one voice that we know is fully worthy of our trust. That is the voice of Jesus, who is the only one who speaks the words of eternal life (cf John 6:68).
If we’re not just going to be people who wander around the Church doing pious and holy things, but people who are truly transformed into the image of Christ AND who, in turn, are able to change the world, it’s all going to start from our ability to hear the word of God and to do it. Archbishop Smith has levelled the challenge… it’s now on us to make sure we’re the ones who learn what Jesus’ voice sounds like, to hear it, and to live it.
UPDATE: I’ve spent most of the fall talking to students about this question – who do I listen to ? – and I’ve summed up my presentation in the video below: