Learning to Listen When God is Speaking

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JMJ

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

My Lord how often we selfishly waste the precious little time we ungrateful and faithless creatures allocate to prayer – time which we miserable beings often in our daily lives so longingly wish to have more of to give; that time which we all too often claim to be unable to find; and yet, my God, how readily we can find time to devote to ourselves. How quick we are to spend the hours with which You have so lovingly blessed us selfishly bustling about concerned with wordly affairs and busying ourselves with tedious tasks so we can afford to indulge our lowest and most depraved of passions fruitlessly. We spend our time as if it were our own and not, instead, the truly precious gift rightly belonging to You alone and merely bestowed to us so we may come to love You more, our most precious and Adorable Jesus. In prayer, a sacred time when we are to set aside our worthless endeavors to be with You – time when we ought to be listening intently for the faintest whisperings of the Holy Spirit – we insignificant yet prideful and sniveling creatures find ourselves speaking so loudly about those concerns we ought to have set aside that we would be unable to hear even the most deafening of cries calling us to You.

We, Your faithful and loyal subjects, who desire so strongly to be in union with You, our Lord, quite often feel as if the distance between we and You, our Beloved, is so unbearably far; and yet, honestly, You dwell so very near within those who are Your unworthy yet loving slaves. If only we would stop and sit with You for but a moment our God, our Master, in prayer; if just we would take the time to recognize how close You indeed are to us no matter where we find ourselves perhaps we would see fewer distractions in prayer, maybe we would become more able to hear Your voice in our daily mundane lives – lives which have no meaning whatsoever if they are devoid of You presence, my Lord. Indeed, and may this be so my Lord I beg You earnestly, our lives may be, by Your grace alone, transformed into a continual prayer offered up to You. My God how much my soul longs for this to be true, and indeed how glorious will it be in Your Kingdom when it comes to pass that all Your creatures find ourselves enraptured in loving worship to You, our Blessed and Merciful Saviour! My God I pray You to make it so for each of your servants here on earth that we would find ourselves so unable to make excuses to occupy our time elsewise that none would struggle any longer to run to Your loving arms with open ears and warm hearts; and, my Lord I pray, we come to You far more often with lips more frequently sealed. If only You would grace our hearts to settle more readily upon You who lives so near to us in the inner chambers of our soul perhaps we would not so often feel the need to expend so many words externally in prayer when we indeed ought to be listening – how wrong and dangerous it is to think of worship as only time to be spent calling out instead of precious time in which we can enter within pressing our ear firmly against the inner walls of that interior castle within which You dwell. While, indeed, many of us faithless sinners will never be – and rightly ought never to be – blessed with the profound Grace of truly entering into the inner chambers of Your Temple we can yet still hear the faint whisperings of the Holy Spirit set within if only we learned to listen more intently, to be less focused on the distractions of the external world, and to strive ever more faithfully in longing to give ourselves to You entering into true Divine Intimacy – to have our wills joined with Yours – our Lord.

Therefore I beg You grant Your servants the wisdom to truly know the preciousness of every moment we are blessed to spend with You and help us all, my God I pray, in setting aside – even if only for a brief moment – time for You alone free from distractions of wordly life. Bless us all, my Beloved, with sincere devotion as those who find themselves enraptured in Divine Love will long for nothing more than Divine Intimacy with You. Grant that we Your loving and faithful servants be desirous of nothing else but to be in love with You, and in being so firmly set in our hearts save us from the temptations and snares of the Enemy and keep us free from all attachment to those things which seek only to distract us from our time with You, our most Beloved and Merciful Jesus. Amen.

My dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I am sitting down this evening remembering a recent meeting I have had with a fellow parishioner. She is a very devout woman – an individual whom I genuinely look up to as an example of one living a fruitful spiritual life. However, as we all have, she is not without her character flaws – or perhaps it is better stated as her particular nuances. She is one who enjoys talking and has a very extroverted personality. She is an individual who truly thrives in getting to know, speaking with, and teaching others. She frequently leads various small discussion groups at our parish and indeed is in her element when organizing a community picnic, potluck, or other social events at the Church. In this way, she is very unlike myself – and many who are drawn to a more reclusive and less active life. However, when it comes time for her to listen to others she struggles. An almost palpable dis-ease descends upon her, and she becomes visibly excited to contribute actively to the conversation. As I may sometimes find myself too anxious to speak she often finds herself, it seems, far too anxious to refrain from speaking.

When I was at Adoration this past week, I was graced with a mental ‘ah-ha!’ moment. I was acting like this parishioner in my prayer. I found myself listing off all the things I was struggling with, the anxieties I was feeling, the petitions of those who have asked me to pray for them, et cetera and not allowing time for God to respond to all these petitions – or better said allowing myself to listen for God’s response as He is indeed not held to the time constraints experienced by we His servants. When my hour was finished, and I was preparing to leave, I realized that I had treated my precious hour of Adoration as if it were a one-sided affair and not a conversation between two individuals. When we talk to others – and indeed also when we speak to God in prayer – we ought not be so silent as to give the impression that we are not engaged with the one to whom we are speaking, but we must also ensure that we do not dominate a conversation to such an extent that we selfishly treat the other individual involved as merely a sounding board for our thoughts. A good conversationalist is one who knows how to balance contribution and receptivity. This past week I dominated the conversation and – like the lady at my parish – did not allow our Lord and Saviour to “get a word in edgewise” so to speak. My God how miserable we Your servants can be in our obsession over petty squabbles and anxieties. How readily we allow these to become the center of our lives instead of You who alone ought to claim this spot for Your own. If only we knew how deeply You love us and how readily You wish to shower us with Your Grace and sublime guidance in prayer how much more frequently our lips would be sealed and our hearts open to You. How little we must speak for You to hear for You know already the most profound thoughts in our minds, the faintest stirrings of our hearts. My God I need not speak for You to know with what it is that I am struggling. May You grant we Your faithful servants, my God I beg You, the wisdom to know when to speak our hearts to You – to express that which You already know – and when to merely sit and be with You attentively listening for the precious whispers of inspiration You lovingly place into our hearts if only we would stay silent for but a moment. Amen.

While some of us may fight to pray at all – how often do we intend to set aside time for mental prayer only to find our day at it’s end just as we thought it merely beginning – it dawned on me that, perhaps, many of us when we do manage to settle down for prayer also struggle with listening in prayer. In this letter, I aim to address this latter issue – of learning to listen in prayer. One of the greatest mentors in the field of prayer is, of course, Saint Teresa of Avila and in her spiritual masterpiece “The Way of Perfection” she outlines for us critical points by which we may learn to approach our Lord more intimately. If you have not already acquired this excellent piece of literature, I highly recommend you do so as it will benefit you immensely. In this letter, I am going to outline briefly a method which I have followed based upon this spiritual masterpiece by Saint Teresa, but as always I defer you to your spiritual director or parish priest in all cases where there is any doubt. I will not be going into detail or stages of prayer beyond that which I feel confident in speaking about; and therefore, I will merely leave this off at the beginning stages of mental and silent prayer. For those who wish to learn more about these topics I absolutely beg you to seek out a spiritual director – I will most likely repeat this countless times in this article as it is such a dire need for anyone entering into a more intimate relationship with our Lord. I am not perfect by any means in my own prayer life, and therefore I share only what I know in hopes that others may find some benefit in it for themselves. I do not claim to be very adept at prayer so approach what is below prudently as the Enemy is capable of interfering with even the best-intentioned of souls so a faithless and weak sinner as myself cannot hope to be entirely free of his diabolical influence. May God protect me as I write this and may He bless all who read this with the wisdom to take what is helpful and to utterly deride what is false. Amen.

Begin Silent Prayer Verbally

I do realize how utterly preposterous this may sound; in fact, it is outright counter-intuitive to those of us who are seeking to become quieter in our prayer and instead listen more intently. However, what better way is there to learn to pray than by reciting the beautiful prayers of our Church passed down to us through the ages? The profound insight one can gain into our relationship with our Lord can be revealed to us as we meditate upon the meaning of these classical outpourings of the heart to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This brief moment of verbal prayer allows one to put himself or herself into the presence of God; to acknowledge that we lowly mortal creatures are seeking to reach out to He who is infinite. It allows our minds to settle upon what it is we are doing exactly – which, of course, is to grow in our relationship and trust in the Lord. Of course, as one progresses along the way of prayer, one will inevitably begin to pray from the heart but for now, let us stick to those prayers which have borne the fruits of many holy Saints. Therefore, my dear brothers, my most cherished sisters, choose a prayer which is in the mood of that which you intend to bring to our Lord until your heart begins to sing for itself to God.

However, I ought not be negligent in mentioning that these prayers musn’t be recited in the fashion that so many of us in our weakness often do – that is, to say them quickly and without thought. No, my dear brothers and sisters. This would be but wasted effort. Instead, take a moment and reflect upon each sentence – indeed, upon each word. Allow the meaning of that which you are praying to surround your entire soul. Dive into the prayer and genuinely taste the syllables. In this way, your heart will begin to detach itself from wordly distractions, and your mind will, perhaps, find it easier to settle itself upon that which you intend to bring to the Lord. The goal of prayer must always be to seek a higher union with our Adorable and Merciful Jesus, and by focusing our intention from the very beginning, we allow ourselves to become less distracted by anything else but Him to whom we cry out in prayer. Beginning verbally also helps us to truly experience prayer as what it indeed is – a conversation.

It should also be mentioned that perhaps this is as far as God intends one’s soul to progress in the way of prayer, and we must not long for that which God does not deem proper and fitting for us; therefore, while one may follow any number of methods, recite all sorts of prayers, and spend many hours in meditation if one does not have proper direction the risk of diabolical influence is extreme. My brothers and sisters, I implore anyone who seeks to step onto the ‘Way of Perfection’ to seek out a learned and holy spiritual director. At the very least, speak to Father at your parish and talk to him about your desire to grow closer to God in prayer.

Be Thankful For the Opportunity

Once you have set your heart upon our Lord and allowed your mind to settle into prayer take some time to thank Him for bringing you before Him in prayer. For those of us who must live in the world a moment to sit in worship is a great grace indeed. Therefore, before you begin asking our Lord for whatever it is – whether that be for help in your life or for Him to grant you insight into your relationship with Him – give Him thanks and praise for all the good He has already worked in your life. When one enters into prayer he or she is, indeed, sitting before our Lord and Saviour; what a profound grace the opportunity to pray is for we lowly and faithless servants. We who deserve nothing but scorn have been brought to the feet of the Master. Let us not waste such an opportunity my brothers and sisters by forgetting to be thankful to He who has saved us from our wretchedness! May God in Heaven forbid that we were ever to do such an awful thing as to forget our proper place and place our concern upon ourselves before showing our love and affection for Him who is worthy of all praise and worship! Amen.

In doing this we show our Lord our love for Him, and we allow our hearts to ascend into His embrace. We find it impossible to not smile kindly upon those who show their love for us as it reminds us that we are appreciated – oh, how we lowly and wretched creatures need such consolations; if we creatures feel so strongly when we are loved how much more we please our Lord when we shower him with our affection. He desires nothing more than to shower His loving creatures with an abundance of Grace when we come to Him with words of love and affection. Let us not then, we who so sorely need His grace if we are to hope to be worth anything to our Lord in our lives, hesitate to begin our prayer with praise and loving words.

Meditate & Listen

Next, let us enter into our meditation and prayer. It is essential that we develop prior to prayer a concise and clear picture as to what it is we are going to pray for or what it is we are going to meditate upon – it is good to do this the night before, perhaps at Compline, or better yet with the help of our spiritual director. Let us briefly place before our Lord the intentions we hold in our hearts, and then beg Him to guide you in understanding with wisdom that which He deems right to show you.

Saint Teresa recommends in her ‘Way of Perfection’ that we at first meditate upon an image – perhaps of the Passion of our Lord or some other fitting icon which has relevance to the subject of our prayer – or perhaps upon a selected passage in a spiritual book. Ask our Lord to help you in understanding what it is He wishes to speak to you through this image, reading, or other aid. Soon, if God wills it, you may find yourself not requiring these external aids and instead will find solace in going inward when praying; but until then it is a good idea to make use of these things and take the advice of Saint Teresa until your spiritual director recommends you do otherwise. What matters most is that your heart is open to the inspiration of the Spirit; that you are receptive instead of expressive. This is the beginning of listening to our Lord – it is when your thoughts begin to settle upon Him, and He sets out to lovingly guide you in His infinite and perfect wisdom.

Perhaps, it is entirely possible and often is the case, we will not receive any form of consolation, spiritual ‘feeling’ so to speak, or immediately obvious insight or guidance – but this does not mean we have wasted our time my brothers and sisters. God is not under our control, and to think we can force from Him a response is an evil thought indeed. It is a fact that time spent with God is never time wasted. We must never allow ourselves to forget that He is the Master and not we; therefore, we must trust that He will guide us in the way He knows will most benefit our souls. However, we must be persistent in our efforts in prayer. We mustn’t let ourselves grow weary or disheartened. We must learn to listen even when it feels as if God is not speaking.

It is also possible that you will feel as if you have been inspired – that you have received some form of insight. This, however, is a more dangerous feeling than dryness as it is entirely possible that we, in our fallen and disgraceful nature, instead fall victim to the influences of the evil one or his minions. Therefore, I implore you again my dear readers, that before acting upon any of these insights in the slightest you take them to your spiritual director – or at the very least Father at your parish. We can not trust ourselves in these matters, and if what you have heard is from the Lord a good and holy director will be able to help you discern the truth of the question. Always act prudently, and never forget that it is better to delay and be sure than lose your immortal soul to the enemy.

Acknowledge Your Sinfulness & Commit to Improving Your Relationship with Our Lord in Prayer and Daily Life

Once you have completed your meditation and prayer take some time to acknowledge your faults and ask our Lord for forgiveness for any imperfections in your prayer. In our lowliness, even when we have the best intentions of serving our Lord, it is possible that we have offended Him. There ought to be nothing which pangs our soul more than the thought of having offended our Lord and Master, and therefore, we ought to need no coaxing to ask for His forgiveness if it is possible even in the slightest that we have offended Him. Therefore, beg Him to forgive you and trust in His infinite Mercy.

Finally, commit to improving your life and overcoming your faults in prayer. Our Lord has called you to be a member of His spiritual body, and any part of the body which is imperfect offends the entire being; however, it is the Head which feels these pains the most; therefore, it is imperative that we always seek most of all from prayer that we are brought closer to our Lord and that we are able to live a life more pleasing to Him. If our aim in prayer is anything but this, we are not praying at all. We do not pray for things we want – for example, a promotion at work – because we desire them; instead, we ought to pray only for those things which we genuinely believe will help us to grow in our love for the Lord – continuing the prior example, we pray for the promotion because it will allow us to give more to the Church or be better able to provide for our family if that is our vocation. In short, my brothers and sisters, in all things which we pray we must never lose sight of our Saviour – we must never pray selfishly, but must always seek to pray selflessly.

In Summary

In this letter, we have explored the basics of entering into a more fruitful prayer life. We have covered some necessary steps from placing ourselves in the presence of God by reciting some verbal prayers, of clearing our hearts and minds of all distractions but Him by meditating on some aspect of His life or a helpful passage of scripture or other spiritual reading, and in then sitting silently listening for His response by pressing our ear against the innermost sanctuary of our hearts. There is far more to be said on this subject, and many who have said it far better than I could ever hope to do so. However, I pray that our Lord will make some use of this humble authors writing and allow the reader to garnish something of use from this. Never forget to Whom you pray my brothers and sisters, and never let yourself lose sight of the final goal – to grow in love and devotion to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in hopes that one day we may be worthy to enter into His Kingdom in Heaven. Prayer is a conversation, and like any conversation it involves a dialogue between those involved. Certainly, allow yourself to bring your petitions, concerns, worries, anxieties, and joys to the Lord; however, ensure that you leave time to listen to His response. It may be faint, but be sure that He does not forsake those who come to Him in humility, faithfulness, loving tenderness, and with a heart genuinely seeking to grow closer to Him.

My Lord, how I pray that every faithful member of Your Holy Church is brought to the highest level of prayer which You – in Your infinite and perfect wisdom – know to be good for his or her soul. Grant us all, my Lord I beg You, the sense to accept that which is our place in life and not to lust after spiritual consolations but instead to be satisfied with what You deem useful for us, Your faithful servants. May You guide us all along the path of perfection and bring us all one day into Your loving embrace in Heaven. Amen.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ let us close this letter discussing the basics of starting to lead a prayerful life and the importance of listening more frequently in prayer with a prayer in common from the Little Office of the Holy Ghost – Advocate and Counsellor – and may we never forget that in prayer the aim must always be to unite ourselves more firmly in Love with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May we all lead a life which is fruitful in prayer and pleasing to our Lord. Be well my brothers and sisters and pray always.

May the power of the Holy Ghost be ever with us, we beseech Thee, O God, and may He, in His mercy, cleanse our hearts, and save us from all dangers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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