God is Always Speaking. Here’s How to Listen.

Throughout this day, God’s been speaking to us.  Take a moment and think about that…  He’s speaking to us now, and will speak later on.

Here’s an example of this.  Edith Stein was born in Poland in 1891 to a Jewish family.  Though her family was devout, when she was fourteen, she said, “I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying.”

Since she was a genius, she flourished in academics and finished her doctorate under the famous philosopher Edmund Husserl, who, I’m told, called her the best doctoral student he ever had.

After being a nurse in World War I and continuing her philosophical work, she had a number of experiences that moved her.  One time, “she went to Frankfurt Cathedral and saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer.  ‘This was something totally new to me.  In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited, people simply went to the services.  Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation.  It was something I never forgot.’”  What do we see here?  God’s gently speaking to her and she’s hearing Him.

Another time, one of her friends died in the war, so she went to visit his wife.  She “felt uneasy about meeting the young widow… but was surprised when she actually met with a woman of faith.  ‘This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it…  It was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me.”

Four years later, while visiting a friend’s estate, she picked up St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, read it all night and remarked, “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.”

A year later she became Catholic.  I heard that, when she went to a local priest to inquire about becoming Catholic, he started testing her knowledge of the faith, and she already knew more than he did!  And eventually she became a Carmelite nun.

Through these different encounters, God was calling, “Edith, Edith!”  And He’s calling our names today too.

This happens in the first reading, when the priest Eli and Samuel are sleeping in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.  (That’s like sleeping in a church where the tabernacle is—wonderful!)  Samuel hears his voice being called, but doesn’t recognize where it’s coming from.  So, he goes to Eli, but he doesn’t recognize it either.  This happens three times.  It says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Sam 3:7).  After the third time, Eli perceives that it’s God who’s calling him and tells him, in effect, “The next time this happens, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).

This is exciting, because the human person has a great need to be called, to know that our life has a purpose, and that we’re being guided.  That’s why stories about destiny, like Star Wars and The Matrix, are so popular.  Every time I hear the story of Edith Stein, it moves my heart.  I love knowing that I’m called, and that my day is being guided by God.

How do we recognize His voice?  One answer is: Go to the heart of things.  When St. John Paul II canonized Edith Stein, he said, “Listen to your heart!  Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things!”

Don, for example, is a fourth-year university student, and during one of his evening walks, he realizes something’s bothering him.  When did that feeling first begin?  Just after lunch.  He was walking to class, met a good friend, but was completely unprepared for the anger she had towards him.  She insulted him, so he insulted back, and then she walked away.  Since that moment, he’s felt no peace.  (Don’s now aware of this and is going to the heart of things: He looks okay, but feels no peace.)

He prays to God for light, to understand the situation.  Then he remembers that the last time he saw this young woman was at a party;  he and his friends were drunk.  When he saw that woman, he divulged to his friends things that she had shared privately with him.  At the time, it seemed funny, but now he realizes it was horribly embarrassing for her.  Now he feels shame for hurting her.

God was calling him through his lack of peace.  On the surface, he’s okay, but deep down, he’s disturbed.  And what’s disturbing him?  Is it that she got mad at him?  Yes, but there’s something deeper.  He’s disturbed by how he acted.  Now he realizes he has to apologize and change his drinking habits (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, The Examen Prayer, 79-82).

Just as Samuel had to grow in awareness of God speaking, so do we.  I often ask people in spiritual conversations, “What’s really bothering you?  Of all the things that are taking away your peace, what’s the main one?”

In the same way, God speaks to us when we experience deep peace.

Here’s the classic spiritual example of this: When St. Ignatius of Loyola was recovering from a cannonball wound and lay in bed for weeks, he had two books to read: a life of Christ and a lives of the saints.  Now remember, at this point, he was no saint; he was a soldier, obsessed with his appearance, already having sex outside of marriage, with no interest in following God.  But, when he read these spiritual books, he actually found himself attracted to what he was reading .  And he started thinking, “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?”  He’d think about this, and then go back to his thoughts of battle and women, etc.

However, he noticed a difference: When he thought about the worldly thoughts, he experienced pleasure, but, at the end, he felt dry and depressed.  Yet when he thought about imitating the rigorous lives of the saints, he felt excited, and afterwards still felt joy.

See the difference?  Lots of things are fun and enjoyable, which is good, but when they leave us depressed and empty, something’s wrong.  But, when we experience more than pleasure, that is, peace and joy, God’s calling us.

During the moment of silence after the homily, could I ask: Where’s your deepest satisfaction today?  Where’s your deepest discontent?  Once we’re aware, what is God saying through these experiences?  How should we respond?  Don, for example, had to apologize and St. Ignatius chose to follow God more fully.

The rest of today will be better if we focus on what God is saying and if we respond to the call.  St. Edith wrote, “From God’s point of view, there is no chance and… the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.”  Just remember: God is always speaking.

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