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How (and why) to hear the voice of God

GRASS IN THE BREEZE
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And prepare to be surprised by what you hear.

People who have heard the voice of God never forget it.

I once met a man who described what happened in an ambulance after he had a massive heart attack. He was frantic with fear, until he heard these words echo in his heart: “Not your love for me, but mine for you will save you.”

He was immediately calm — and after he got healthy, he never missed Mass again.

You could experience the same benefits from hearing God, too. The readings this Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) explain how — and why.

1: The voice of God is surprising.

Too often, we forget how fresh and exciting the word of God is. The voice of God is like a great song that mesmerized us the first time we heard it, but after the hundredth listen had lost its power to thrill.

Sunday’s Gospel reminds us what it was like to hear Jesus for the first time. “The people were astonished at his teaching,” it says. “He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

The voice of God is incisive and insightful. If you stop and focus on what he is saying, he will leave you “astonished.” Every time.

2: The voice of God is powerful.

The voice of God is not just one voice among many: It is a unique expression of the Word of God; it is a voice that accomplishes what it speaks, from the “Let there be light” thundering across the cosmos to the whisper in the back of an ambulance.

“All were amazed” by the power of Jesus’s voice in the Gospel, when he expelled demons with a word. “What is this?” they asked, “A new teaching with authority!”

3: In fact, God had to soften his voice for us.

In fact, God’s voice is so powerful and so surprising, it upset people. In the first reading we learn that God’s people couldn’t take it. They said, “Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.”

Think of King Kong trying to woo a human woman, but only frightening her. That, by pale analogy, is the situation we were in with God.

But the almighty God wanted to have a relationship with us tiny little people. So he made a deal with us, and agreed to speak in a way we could handle.

He decided to send us a Messiah: “He shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

He sent Jesus.

4: Now, it is due to our hardness of heart when we don’t hear God.

“Oh, that today you would hear his voice,” says this Sunday’s psalm. “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah.”

The Church has made this psalm its own, using it in Masses throughout the year and in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The reference is to the incident in Exodus where Moses gave in to the grumbling of the people and disobeyed God’s instructions. God told him to strike a rock for water. Moses struck it twice.

Instead of treating God’s offer with astonishment and awe, he treated God like Tom Brady might treat his waterboy.

God didn’t like that. He doesn’t like it when we do it, either.

5: Try treating God like God, says the psalm.

The psalm gives us the correct procedure.

First: “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving,” it says. Writing a thank-you card for a gift helps you better feel its worth; thanking God for his voice does the same thing.

Second: “Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us.” Treating God’s voice with reverence helps us remember its power.

6: Don’t crowd God out, either.

The second reading brings up another obstacle to hearing God’s word.

St. Paul, flatteringly, suggests that we married lay people are too busy trying to please our spouses to notice him. That is true sometimes. Often, though — particularly in our time, when many time-saving devices make our daily life much easier — we busy ourselves not by pleasing our spouse, but by pleasing ourselves.

What to do about that is obvious:

7: Open up a space in your life where God can speak.

If you want to hear the voice of God, you know what to do. Thank him. Worship him. Spend time with him.

Come before him in the morning, Bible in hand, ready to listen. Seek him out in the tabernacle, on your knees. Find him in spiritual reading, Catholic radio, or Lighthouse CDs.

Prepare to be surprised — and changed — by what you hear.

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