Hearing God or Hearing Voices?

One good shout out deserves another.  Glenmary Brother David Henley has written an insightful reflection about the experience of vocation.  He also kindly jumps off a quote from Already There!  Here’s a little snippet:

In a book I have been reading, Already There: Letting God Find You, author Jesuit Father Mark Mossa gives a good explanation about some of our doubts regarding whether we are being called. “In the course of history,” he writes, “some saints and even some crazy people have shared with others that God has spoken to them in an audible voice. It may be that I’m not saintly or crazy enough, but this has never been my experience.”

I think that is true for the vast majority of us. Only a few have had an experience like St. Paul, who fell down when he heard the voice of Jesus calling him: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.'” (Acts 9:4-6)

So if the vast majority don’t hear voices or get struck by lightning bolts, how do we know if we are being called? I believe the answer is that we are all being called. Each of us has the capacity to listen to that inner voice that helps in discerning good or bad decisions—”Should I go to Mass today, or should I spend the morning updating my Facebook account or reading my friends’ drunken tweets from the night before?” . . . .

Read the whole thing here.

Remember My Voice

The Saturday night mass at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress was the end of the congress for me, since I had to fly home the next day.  And, at the end, I found myself very moved and even teary-eyed.  This had nothing to do with the fact that it was the end, or even the quality of the liturgy (which was very good), but with the man sitting behind me.

It had been a busy day in a tiring weekend.  Earlier, I’d taken the tab out of the collar of my clerical shirt, and had even found someplace to catch a brief nap.  So, I was sporting the casual, open-collar priest look.  When it came time for the sign of peace, I turned to my friends sitting next to me, and then to those behind me.  I had heard  the groanings of attempts at speech earlier in the mass, and had wondered at their source.  And here he was, a large, somewhat disheveled man who, upon seeing me turn to him, appeared very distressed.  He tried to speak, but what came out was only nonsense, and he kept pointing to his collar.  I quickly realized that the source of his distress seemed to be my open collar.  Clearly, he recognized that I was a priest who was missing something.  I tried to reassure him, even talk to him, but I could not bridge the communication gap.  Eventually, he pulled a collar tab out of his own pocket and I, as if to reassure him, took mine out of my pocket and showed it to him, but he still seemed agitated.  I looked to the people on either side of him, thinking that one of them might be a caretaker, but he seemed to be alone.

I turned back to the mass and began to wonder: Was this man a priest?  Was that what he was trying to say?  I, too, am a priest.  Or was it that I was somehow not living up to expectations by having removed my collar?  I began to think that he was a priest, though I could not be sure.  But in imagining that he was a priest, I began to consider what it might be like to be a priest without a voice.  Attending this joyous liturgy, and even mouthing some of the words of the mass to myself while doing so, I started to consider what it might be like if my voice were suddenly taken away.  What a privilege it is to “say” the mass, and what grief it would cause if that were taken way.  And suddenly I realized in a quite overwhelming way that surely there are hundreds if not thousands of priests who because of a stroke, Alzheimer’s or some other illness are no longer able to speak, or to do so intelligibly.  And like the man behind me, perhaps a priest, they heroically press on, attending mass burdened with the sadness of not being able to say it, and perhaps seeing other priests like myself who don’t seem to appreciate the privilege enough.

I restored my collar, out of deference to this man—priest or not—who seemed to be concerned (some thought it was because I was about to receive communion from Cardinal Mahony, but I must admit that this thought hadn’t even occurred to me).  I found myself being even more deeply moved by this man’s plight, whether real or imagined, as I received communion, and took time to reflect afterwards.  I determined that I would ask the man, and hopefully be able to discover whether he was indeed a priest.  And, if so, I  decided, Iwould ask for his blessing.  I found myself verging on tears as I reflected on this, and continued to enjoy the splendor and music of the Eucharist we celebrated.  I found myself wanting to reach out to this man, to know who he was, to somehow get past his broken voice and find a connection.  Mass ended, I turned, and he was gone.  I’ll never know if he was, in fact, a priest, but he was to me that day in the truth of my imagination, and in the compassion which it inspired.

I was disappointed and further saddened by his absence, but I determined to remember him when once again my lips gave voice to the mass, a voice that he helped me to appreciate, that I might lose one day too.

Listen, Jesus Doesn’t Have To Be Nice

At the beginning of one semester as we were going over the requirements for my course, one of my students said excitedly to me, “you’re a Jesuit, that means you have to be nice.”  I immediately took the opportunity to relieve him, and the entire class of this notion, explaining that there was nothing in my job description as a teacher or as a Jesuit that required me to be nice, fair and just perhaps, but not “nice.”  If they didn’t believe me then, I think a number of them changed their mind when they got their first paper back!

Many of us, though perhaps we don’t come right out and say it, often approach Jesus in the same way, “You’re Jesus, so you have to be nice!”  And many people persist in this idea, even though it seems that we have plenty of evidence to the contrary.  Jesus wasn’t very nice to the Pharisees, and he’s not being particularly nice in our Gospel reading today.  In fact, if anything he appears to be cruel, and downright unreasonable.

Nevertheless, I think we have to avoid the temptation to dismiss this Gospel story by saying something like, “I don’t believe in that Jesus.”  If we only listened to the stories of Jesus in which we liked Jesus, or thought he was being nice, we would have to throw out or ignore a good portion of the Gospel.  But I think we can—and should—ask the question, “Why is Jesus being so unreasonable?”

It hardly seems fair the way he’s treating these people, turning his back on them, claiming he never knew them, and telling them to go away!  After all, the evidence seems to be in their favor.  They say, and we have no reason to believe they are lying: We have prophesied in your name, we have driven out demons in your name, we have done mighty deeds in your name.  We might expect Jesus to say “thank you,” not “depart from me, you evildoers.”  Why is Jesus being so unreasonable?

What seems to be the problem is that Jesus’ standard of judgment in this case is not simply concerned with what they have done, or even in whose name, but why they have done it.  Jesus is challenging the “all I have to do is be a good person” approach to life.  He is trying to cure us of the approach to life in which we really expect little of ourselves, because we are confident that in the end, Jesus will be nice to us.  Just because God is a God of love, compassion and mercy, he might be saying, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t expect much of us.  We make a mistake if we think that our life with God comes with such low expectations.

What was expected of the people that Jesus rejects?  And what is expected of us?  Jesus makes this pretty clear: that we do God’s will.  It’s not enough to just do things, even if they seem to be good things.  As Christians, we are held to a higher standard because we love God and because God loves us.  And it’s important that we listen to what Jesus is saying today, because he is explaining that following God’s will isn’t about simply “doing,” but is first about “listening.”  Those who follow God’s will, he explains, are those who “listen to these words of mine, and act on them.”  Jesus’ problem with those that have come to him is not with what they have done so much as it is the fact, as his parable suggests, that what they have done has no foundation.  They have not listened to the voice of God telling them what to do.  It may be that God did not want them to prophesy, cast out demons, or do mighty deeds.  It may be that this was someone else’s job, that God had something else in mind for them, but they never asked, and didn’t listen.

Jesus is warning against the life of “just being a good person,” a life in which we are relatively nice to others, mostly stay out of trouble, but more or less just do what we want, confident that the nice Jesus won’t hold our mistakes against us.  He is also warning against a life in which we do all kinds of “flashy” God stuff like prophesying and casting out demons without ever paying attention to what God really wants for our lives.  We can live our lives doing the kind of things God might want us to do.  Or we can instead listen to what God is asking us to do.  The challenge, of course, is that the God we are now paying attention to is going to expect a lot more of us than the God we were just counting on being nice to us in the end.  But, why, anyway, would we want to follow a God with such low expectations?

Instead, each of us needs to answer Jesus’ call today to listen and to act.  To listen to the voice of God which may be inviting us to do something extraordinary, or even, to the disappointment of some, something quite ordinary.  To risk doing great things for God, and in doing so, sometimes failing quite spectacularly, as many of the disciples did before us.  To make us of the unique gifts, talents and quirks which God has given us, and which God desires us to use for God’s glory and the good of others.

To do this we must all take the opportunity, like the one we have today in our worship, to stop our doing and start listening to what God’s desires are for our lives.  If we listen for God’s will, we will see that what God invites us to do is to become most fully what God intends us to be, as we deepen our relationship with God.  When we discover the confidence that what we are doing is not just something God might like, but something God wills, our lives are transformed.  We become more accustomed to hearing God’s voice guiding us in times of trial and decision, hope and joy.  And though our lives don’t become free of mistakes or sin, we won’t find ourselves in the end hoping for a Jesus we don’t really know to be nice to us, but we’ll be looking forward to belonging more completely to the God we’ve been listening to for so long.

Thoughts For the Week, part 1

Part 1 of my interview about spirituality for young adults, and my book, which aired this past Sunday, is now available at Spirituality For Today.  You can find the link on their home page, along with links to articles and other interviews, or you can go directly to the interview by clicking here.  This was a panel interview with three interviewers, so there is a good variety of questions and comments from them, as well as from me.

Wake Up Call

If you’re an early riser, you can hear the first of a two-part interview with me on the program “Thoughts for the Week.”  The interview is with the tag team of Fr. Ray Petrucci, Fr. Mark Connolly, and Dorothy Riera.  We had a great time talking a while back, and finally it’s going to air!  Some of you might have heard of Fr. Connolly.  He was involved in the beginnings of the TV mass broadcast in New York, and spent his younger days working with Bishop Fulton Sheen on his famous TV show, “Life is Worth Living.”

The show will be broadcast this Sunday, February 13 at 7:30 am Eastern time (I told you it was early).  You can catch it on WSTC and WNLK, which can be streamed in Itunes’ radio/talk section.  You can also listen to it on their website: wstcwnlk.com.  I think it will also be archived for listening later, but I’m not certain of that.

Pray With And For Refugees

The Jesuit Refugee Service is offering an on-line retreat, beginning Monday November 1.  It’s a good opportunity to “schedule in” some daily prayer, as well as to learn more about the plight of refugees around the world.

Here’s the information from JRS, for those of you who would like to participate:

Online Retreat

This November 14th is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Jesuit Refugee Service. We recall fondly Father Pedro Arrupe’s sound advice to “pray, pray much” as he encouraged the struggling first generation of Jesuit Refugee Service team members in Southeast Asia to bring the overwhelming challenges of their new apostolic work to the Lord in prayer.

To highlight the anniversary and our on-going work with refugees and forced migrants, on November 1 we will makeavailable on our website an Online Retreat. Each day of this online retreat will offer the opportunity to reflect prayerfully on the situation of refugees via the lens of The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

By linking the Spiritual Exercises to the plight of refugees and vulnerable migrants, we believe that the retreat will provide an easy way for people to fuse spirituality and social justice into their daily life. During the next four weeks we invite you — day by day — into an experience of “prayerful storytelling” as we share with you the grace-filled stories of God’s powerful love for all of us.

I hope you can join them!

School Year Blessings

My friend Steve Silver, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Lebanon, NH offered the children of his parish a great way to kick off the new school year–The Blessing of the Backpacks!  I have to say I kinda like the idea.  A simple way to remind students that God is involved in the ordinary events of their lives.  They even carry their blessing around every day!  Way to go, Steve!  Check out his blog, the Mainline Minister, which you can find on my blogroll.

Maybe I should bless my backpack?

Pretty Good Advice, or Did I Really Write That?

For the past three years I have helped to lead a retreat for young adults at our Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta.  The last one was about a month ago. The other day, the woman who works at our retreat house (who really does the bulk of the work for the retreat) wrote me, sending along an attachment.  You wrote this really nice letter last year, she wrote, and I’d like to send it out again.  At first, I didn’t even remember having written the letter!  Then, I opened it, and started to wonder anew if I had even written it!  It was a really nice letter!  Thoughtful, well-written and offering some pretty good advice.  Some advice, I thought, that I could do well to remember myself!  Here I am, I thought with a smile, giving myself some well-needed advice!  It was a great grace.  And even though by then I had remembered writing the letter, I still found myself a bit incredulous: did I really write that?

Here’s an excerpt from that letter that perhaps you might find helpful, especially if you need to be reminded of a good experience you had with God, and the people that were there with you:

” . . . I know that your choice to come on retreat was only one of many you have yet to make.  I invite you to let one of those be to be deliberate about remembering the graces of your retreat experience.  Many of you expressed the desire to hold onto the consolations of the weekend, but you also shared your fear that the many cares of your lives might make this difficult.  So, let this letter serve as a reminder to set aside some time to reflect, to journal, and to speak with others about what this weekend meant to you.  Pay attention to what struck you the most, and begin to ask: Why?  What is God trying to tell me?

This process of discovery will be helped by such things as attending mass more regularly, and finding a group of peers also seeking what God desires for their lives.  I also encourage you to find a spiritual director whom you can meet with on a regular basis.  The spiritual director won’t tell you what to do, but will help you to see the direction in which God is leading you.  You might also try to make a silent retreat of 3 to 5 days.  Silence makes room for God like nothing else.  Ignatius House can provide you assistance with both these things.

If you made a friend this weekend—or a few—do more than just Facebook each other.  Get together, and get to know each other better.  Do the same with God.  Get out of the house, and meet God away from your everyday distractions!  You’ve undoubtedly found that upon returning home from the retreat, your life hasn’t changed as much as you’d hoped.  There are still many of the same challenges.  But there is also something new happening.  This is the beginning, as the prophet Jeremiah speaks about, of “a future full of hope.”  That hope lies in your choice to let this be not just a pleasant weekend, but one of your life’s turning points.  Trust that God, with your help, will make the change you need happen.  But pray also for patience with the fact that this may happen in God’s time, and not as immediately as you would like . . .”

This was something that I know I need to hear right now, and there are things here which I know I need to continually remind myself of.  And just leave it to God, that infinite trickster, to send me a reminder, using my own words!  God is good, and doesn’t have a half-bad sense of humor.

Three Favorite Prayers

Becky has asked me to share 3 of my favorite prayers with you, as she has also done on her blog.

So, here goes:

1 Lord, Save me! –St. Peter

2 The Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me;
Within thy wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from thee;
From the malignant enemy defend me;
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to thee,
That with thy saints I may praise thee,
Forever and ever. Amen.

3 Jeremiah’s Lament

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message;
The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day.
I say to myself, I will not mention him. I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion…
Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD,
for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Amen.