Samuel would become one of the great prophets of Judaism; yet, in the early stages of his faith journey, he confused the voice of the Lord with the voice of his teacher, Eli. Samuel had the ability to hear the voice of God but failed to identify it as divine. [See 1 Sm 3: 3-10, 19] In effect, this reading underscores that there is a language to faith. As with any language, there is a need to have certain skills, especially speaking and listening. We speak to God whenever we pray. But what about the ability to listen to God? To do this requires the grace of discernment, a divine gift which is the ability to comprehend what it is God is telling us. With this tool, eventually, Samuel would be able to distinguish the human voice of his mentor, Eli,from the divine voice of his creator.
Like Samuel, many of us are struggling to “listen” to the voice of God. “How does God speak to us?” ”What does he have to say to us?” “Does God speak to everyone or just a chosen few?” “Why would he speak to me, when there are so many people moreimportant, more deserving than I?” God talks to us in Scripture. He communicates with us through our encounters with Christ in the sacraments. He sometimes speaks to us through the voices of other humans and, onoccasion, through an event.
Rarely, though, does God speak in auricular fashion as he did to Samuel in his sleep.
What God has to say to us depends on what he wills for us. Quite often, this has something to do with what we asked of him in prayer at an earlier time. Sometimes, God wants to give us direction when we are faced with a difficult decision. At other times, God wants us to know simply that he heard us when we implored his aid. Just as God created every person, so God speaks to every person; however, not all people are aware of God’s voice or, worse, are not open to God’s word, since we are free creatures and God does not tamper with our free will, which can even choose not to acknowledge the existence of God, yet alone his voice. Deep in the apex of the soul, where we open up to God through freedom and love, the faculties of the intellect and the will are at work decoding God’s communication to us. We can choose, then, to acknowledge the message or ignore it. While God wants to be in a relationship with us, still, many of us fail to heed the invitation to communion with God consciously by ideology or unconsciously by our conduct. So, “whywould God wish to speak with insignificant me,” you wonder? Because, in the words of St. Luke, ”Are not five sparrows sold for a few pennies? Yet no one of them is
neglected by God…You are worth more than a flock of sparrows.” [ Lk 12:6-7] And later in the same chapter, the evangelist underscores God’s solicitude for each of us: “Or take the lilies: they do not spin, they do not weave; but I tell you, Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like any one of them. If God clothes in such splendor the grass of the field…how much more will he provide for you…?” [ Lk 12:27-28] In short, each and every one of us are precious in God’s sight. As we walk and talk with God, let us ask him for the grace to listen, to discern what he is saying. Let us pray also for the grace of courage to respond to his word, even if it requires risk, so that, like Samuel, we, too, might become fluent in the language of faith.
Father Comandini is managing editor of The Catholic Spirit .