By the grace of God, I am a catechist. This article is in response to a question from one of the teens in my second year Confirmation class. I had said to the class that prayer is a two-way conversation. The question that came back was: how do we hear the second part of that conversation — God’s reply?
I am convinced that there are as many ways that God can respond to us in prayer as there are souls inhabiting this planet. When He responds to prayer, God is always in control. There is absolutely nothing I can do to elicit a response, but I am always thankful when I receive one. What follows are portrayals of some of the ways I have heard God’s voice.
God mostly speaks to me in the silence, in prayerful, sacred moments in quiet places. I have heard His still small voice many times, sitting in a back pew in an empty and majestic Catholic worship space while an ascendant sunrise sets stained-glass windows aglow. It’s the same still small voice, the “light silent sound”, that Elijah heard on the mountain. For Elijah, and frequently for many of us, God’s voice was not in the great wind, or the earthquake, or the fire (1 Kings 19:12).
One Sunday when I was returning to my pew after receiving the real presence of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, something extraordinary happened. God spoke to me in the middle of Mass, in the company of 800 other worshipers. I had been thanking God for the blessings He had bestowed on me and was asking for His help to strengthen my ability to trust in Him more completely. I typically struggle in life to truly trust in Jesus according to the caption on the Divine Mercy image: “Jesus, I trust in You”. If I trusted in Jesus fully, for example, I would not struggle with financial worries relating to my business because I would have more faith that God will provide.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33).
At the moment I asked Jesus for His divine help that I might trust in Him more, an overwhelming sensation hit me like a ton of bricks that Christ trusts me! He created me, gave me free will, and trusts me to work in His vineyard and to carry out His will in my life, as broken and imperfect as I might be in doing so. Experiencing God’s trust as a divine revelation caught me totally off guard! I knew that I needed to work on trusting Jesus more, but I had no sense or experience until that moment that God trusted me as His creation, as His child, and as His disciple on earth.
Late one afternoon I entered a church to pray a holy hour and found thirty Carmelite nuns on their knees in the front of the church praying and singing. Their Lord and spouse, Jesus Christ, was exposed in a beautiful golden monstrance on the altar. As I slipped silently into the last pew, I felt a strong presence I’ve not felt before or since. The air was thick like you could cut it with a knife. I knew the presence I felt and the scene I was witnessing was the profound love between the nuns and Jesus. The experience of that love spoke to me in a powerful way.
One Good Friday, when my prayer life was about a year old, I stopped at a church to pray, and there wasn’t another soul about. As I knelt down, I noticed that the atmosphere was strange and lonely and dead feeling. It was very unusual, and I looked around until I saw the open tabernacle on the altar. Of course! Jesus was not present in the church in the Blessed Sacrament that day because the altar had been stripped and Jesus moved to a temporary place of repose the night before after Holy Thursday Mass. It was His real presence I was missing! A presence I’ve come to know and to love.
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27).
God often speaks to my heart through His Word in the Bible.
“Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me” (Ps 139:1-5).
The fruit of my holy hour, contemplating and praying on that Psalm, was insightful:
God knew me and made me, but I didn’t know Him until I embarked on this journey and immersed myself in Him and His Church. Now each day I walk with Him throughout the day. I talk with Him and am aware of His presence. I know that the Holy Spirit is working within me and inspiring me. There is still darkness and suffering in my life, but it is for my perfection. I know God will use that darkness to form something brilliant.
Three years ago I started taking early morning, weekend hikes for exercise and prayerful meditation. Although those hikes were usually solitary, I was never alone. With my guardian angel before me and Jesus, my brother, beside me, I had the best hiking companions! I had typically been praying to and with Jesus since I started my prayer life, but it was on those solitary hikes that I began to approach the Holy Spirit.
I started to receive inspirations while hiking and praying, and over time I began to understand that those inspirations were from the Holy Spirit. The word inspire comes from the Latin inspirationem, literally meaning “to breathe into”. After His resurrection, Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit”” (Jn 20:22). I had started to do more public speaking, particularly in youth ministry, and sometimes I’d come down from a hike with an entire talk gifted to me.
Our God is so surprising in so many ways, and His message on one hiking experience was definitely eye-opening. It was on a Friday afternoon one spring when I took off an hour early from work, as the day was too beautiful to remain in the office. I hadn’t been able to hike as regularly as I normally would have that winter, as it had been exceptionally rainy with many of the parks and trails closed. I was eager to get up close and personal with the intense green of the hillsides that I’d been admiring from afar.
I didn’t want to overdo it that Friday afternoon, and I started out to walk the park perimeter, a two-mile loop. I was looking for, and almost expecting prayerful inspiration, and that was a mistake. The scenery was gorgeous – green like we never see in dry Southern California, with the grasses growing chest high on both sides of the trail trying their best to crowd the path. And in my prayer I heard nothing. It was like I was hiking all alone. I mean, really alone! That presence I had become used to was somewhere else. And the scenery was beautiful.
I kept going, opening myself up to the Lord. Nothing. Sometimes when prayer is dry I’ll break out my rosary, but I had already prayed a rosary that morning, as I typically do on my commute to the office. I tried not to get frustrated. And the scenery was really beautiful!
About a mile into the hike, it finally dawned on me (sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake). God had been speaking to me from the moment I set foot in the park, but not in the usual ways. He was sitting back letting me enjoy the wonder of His creation — and it was wondrous! I got it! Nothing more needed to be said.
Would the good Lord speak to me on my hike this day?
Not a word did I hear Him say – no inspiration, no instructions, no marching orders.
And although He did not speak to me in that way, not today,
Nay He did not forsake me.
For it was the grandeur of His creation that spoke.
This article was not my idea. It was inspired, as you might imagine, on a long prayer hike. Thanks be to God – Father, Son, and most mysterious Holy Spirit – for the unfathomable gift of prayer, and for bestowing the desire to pray.