But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. (Mt.13:16)
I have often been amused by the fact that, while most people believe praying is a good and wholesome thing; if you say, “I actually hear God when I pray,” people think you are crazy! But Scripture tells us that indeed, God does want to speak to us. Luke 12:12 assures us that we will be taught by God Himself through the Holy Spirit, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
John 14:21 promises that God will surely reveal Himself to us,
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” In Amos 3:7 we are told, “God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”
Now you may be tempted to object saying, “I am no prophet.” But I would object saying that any baptized person is a prophet. In our baptismal ritual, at the anointing with the Sacred Chrism, the person is anointed “priest, prophet and king.” I dare say that we are card carrying prophets by baptism. It is sad to say that we may not be aware of, nor do we use this God-given gift. But do not despair; in prayer we can use this wonderful gift.
This marvelous gift becomes apparent to us as we desire to hear God and come to know Him. As we come to know God, we will recognize that he has some marvelous ways of speaking to us. Knowing God in prayer sensitizes us to the many ways God can communicate. True, he most obviously communicates to us through Sacred Scripture and our Church Teaching. Yet, when one begins to pray, we realize that God is not limited to the constraints of language, but in other ways, He can give us little personal messages throughout the day.
I remember, as a child that our family would have guests for dinner. If any of us kids were not well behaved at the dinner table, we got that look from mom or dad. No words were spoken nor were they necessary because, based on past interaction with mom and dad, we knew very well what that look meant. Indeed, I am amazed by the way Mothers can interpret the meaning of their babies crying. I am more amazed that people can actually hear their pets! I have even seen people carry on a conversation with dogs and cats! Of course, anyone who has had a long standing relationship with their dog can understand this. So, why would it be so strange to presume that might understand our pets more than we understand our God?
Hearing-aids tuned to God’s voice
I suggested that we all have a prophetic gift for hearing God. However, we may require some tools, or “hearing-aids” in developing the art of hearing Him in prayer.
In order to cultivate this gift of hearing God (prophesy), we must realize that He is not limited to communicating in American English with a New England accent. As we come to know Him personally through invested time in prayer, we become more sensitive to the intuitive way He speaks to us. It is almost like learning “Windows” computer software. Once we learn “Word,” we have an instinct or intuition about how to use other software applications and the “icons” literally speak to us. One could say that our Christian software manual for hearing God is the Bible. In these pages of Sacred Scripture, we grasp the fundamentals of knowing God so as to be more tuned into hearing His word.
I often suggest that people begin reading Scripture with the Gospel of Mark. Read a chapter each day. Try not to “figure out what it means,” there are bible studies for that. Rather, see the text as a window which lets us view Jesus in a personal way. Soon we come to know His preferences and feelings and gain a foundation for intuitively understanding of His Word. Indeed, knowing someone can make a huge difference in communication. An example of this might be seen in a married couple; after a short time, they discover that the word “fine,” stated in a certain tone really means, “I disagree, but have it your way, and later you will realize the consequences!” Let’s just say that after getting to know each other better, lots of couples do come to understand the relationship between “fine” and “consequences.”
Each week, in our parish bulletin the daily Mass readings are published. In daily prayer, after taking some time to offer praise, our heart and mind will open to God’s word. Then we can read the passages of the day and hear God. I personally do this each day. I also keep a journal and write notes about my thoughts on the passage I read. The action of writing helps me focus and minimizes distractions. The journaling often becomes the “stuff” of my homily for the Mass. Sometimes when I write in my journal I even begin writing as if God were dictating. I begin, “Dear Moe…” and let my pen “fly.” I am often amazed by what can materialize on the page.
Pray and you will be amazed! “The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be amazed” (Jn.5:20).
And God said… “Can you hear me now?”
As a priest, I am often asked, “How did you get the ‘calling’?” My answer is usually something like, “That’s a long story.” But the short version is; I never heard a voice, I did not hear rushing winds or peals of thunder. In reality the calling came through a collection of persons and events that God used to gently guide me and lead me on. Prayer was the “cell phone” that I used to hear His voice in all these events.
As prayer increases our sensitivity to God’s word, we are able to hear Him in many ways. It may happen at Mass as we find ourselves minding our own business, very comfortable in our pew; when suddenly Father begins to say something that makes us wonder if he was told exactly what we needed to hear! Perhaps we have been awestruck by a certain prayer that really spoke to our heart as it was read. I have known God to speak through priests, parents, and even, yes, children! If we are open and honest with Him, His voice will get through to us.
When I first began feeling the “calling”, I asked a priest what I had to do to become a priest. He said that I had to have a college degree. I told him that my high school grades were terrible, (barely 2.0) and I never took SAT’s. He said, “If God wants you to be a priest, he will get you into a college.” So I told God, “If you want me to be a priest, you have to get me into a college.” Then I applied to one school and to my surprise, the Dean of Admissions at St. Anselm’s said I was accepted for studies. This barely “C” student received a BA after four years which left little doubt in my mind what God was saying!
“OK, I am ready to hear, but how do I know if it is really God speaking to me?” I propose four pillars of discernment for testing what you are hearing. Scripture and Church teaching are the two primary pillars. What we hear in prayer should not contradict Scripture. As Scripture is God’s Word, He would not make private statements to us that conflict with His definitive Word. We may also take care to guide our understanding of Scripture according to the Church teaching. Since The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, God would not speak contrary to Himself as revealed in Church Teaching. Therefore, adding The Catechism of the Church to our personal library may be very helpful in discerning God’s voice in prayer. It has a marvelous index and is very useful in giving clear knowledge and insight for direct answers and guidance.
A more personal pillar is the consistency between God’s Word and our life history. It is not likely that God would tell us something that is inconsistent with a vocational calling. If prayer brings us to question our vocation, or seems to upset our conscience, it should be carefully discussed with a confessor or a trusted person whom we know is well rooted in the faith.
Finally, the sacrament of reconciliation is an excellent pillar of discernment. For as our personal relationship with Christ grows and we become more intimate with Him, we become more conscious about Truth. We see more clearly the truth about God and about ourselves. Sorting out the truth from the lies often requires the help of a good confessor who is used by God our Loving Father provide us with His voice of healing, mercy and forgiveness.
Once a very humble person told me, “Father, I am so thick that God could never get through to me. I don’t think I should bother trying to hear Him.” No doubt, this is an objection to which many could relate. To answer it, I refer to Numbers 22:22-35. It is a story about how God used a donkey to prophesy. The crux of the passage is simply; If God can speak through an ass… He can surly get through to YOU! Indeed, no matter how thick and stubborn we believe we are, He will get through to any person who is prayerfully honest and open His will.