Red Mass: The wisdom of Solomon is ‘a listening heart’

Story and Photos By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

Benedictine Abbot Justin Brown delivered the homily at the annual Red Mass – marking the start of the legal year – on Oct. 7 at St. Louis Cathedral, and he remined members of the legal profession they should be mindful of King Solomon’s request to God not for a long life or riches but for “a listening heart.”

Reflecting on the third chapter of the first book of Kings, Abbot Justin called Solomon’s prayer for discernment between right and wrong “one of the great prayers of all time.”

In the passage, the Lord comes to Solomon at night in a dream and says he will grant Solomon whatever he wishes. Solomon replies that he is “a mere youth” who has been put in charge of “a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.”

Thus, Solomon asks God for “a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”

“King Solomon reveals his deepest desire and the ultimate longing of his heart, a prayer that simply gives us a look into the soul of one of the wisest of the human race,” Abbot Justin said. “Solomon knew instinctively (that) without a listening heart to know what is right, without grounding in the moral order established by God, all things such as long life, riches and power are useless and have no ultimate and enduring value.”

Abbot Justin said “a core value” for Benedictine monks is “a listening heart,” trained through the centuries by a routine of prayer and frequent silence throughout the day.

“St. Benedict, in writing the rule of life for monks over 1,500 years ago, begins with these words: ‘Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart,’” Abbot Justin said. “A significant part of our day is spent in listening rather than speaking, listening to Scripture, listening to one another as we sing the psalms, listening silently as we meditate upon the Word of God and even listening to readings as we take our meals – all to cultivate a listening heart.”

Abbot Justin said he hoped those in the legal profession could make King Solomon’s prayer “your prayer … to desire above all else a listening, understanding heart to know what is right.”

“I’m sure there are days when your work of safeguarding the rule of law on earth can be overwhelming and you find yourself echoing Solomon’s statement – ‘Who is able to govern this vast people?’ – but, like Solomon, do not despair,” Abbot Justin said. “This is the moment to utter his prayer – ‘Give your servant a listening, understanding heart.’ Only then can you share in God’s work of creating a world of justice and righteousness.”


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