Hearing God’s Voice

Many people struggle to know what God wants of them

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AckermanAs a child, I used to attend Mass with my paternal grandparents, who worshipped at a beautiful Church that sat high on a hill overlooking the city of Pittsburgh. One particular Sunday, the priest gave a homily talking about hearing the voice of God. I can remember him saying, “If you listen hard, God is speaking to you right now!”

I really did not think much about that until the offertory. During the offertory, I heard a voice speaking very faintly. At first, I thought it was the children behind me, but they were quiet (they actually were sleeping).

“I hear God,” I told my grandma. She told me that I needed to be quiet. However, I kept hearing a voice coming from the sound system, and it was not the priest. “No, I really do hear his voice,” I implored her again.

“Okay,” she whispered. “What is he saying?”

I listened as hard as I could. “I think he is telling me to drink responsibly,” I replied.

She looked at me as though I was crazy and told me to pay attention. However, I was not totally wrong. It turns out that the sound system at the church was picking up the radio waves for the NFL Sunday football broadcast. I was not hearing the voice of the Almighty, but instead beer commercials prior to kickoff. I was disappointed but at least learned a life lesson.

All joking aside, it often is hard to distinguish the voice of God in our lives. I have encountered many people in my priestly ministry who struggle to know what God wants for them. However, I am always inspired that so many folks continue to strive again and again in prayer. There is an old joke that once after a Sunday Mass a priest saw a little girl sitting in church with her eyes closed and clutching the pew tightly. “Are you okay?” he asked her.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “I am waiting for God to answer my prayer.”

“That’s great,” he said. “If you don’t mind me asking, what did you ask God for?”

“I asked him,” she quipped, “if he would take my baby brother back!”

As humorous as that joke is, perhaps it is not far from what many of us do. We hope to hear the voice that confirms what we desire. God’s voice instead is always one that challenges and leads us to deeper truth and charity. It very often requires an interior struggle and a desire to die to our own ego.

Not all that long ago, I came across a homily of St. Augustine’s that inspires all of us to remember that God calls us in various ways and walks of life to follow him. Augustine says: “(In the Lord’s garden) are the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedding couples, and the violets of widows. On no account may any class of people despair, thinking that God has not called them. Christ suffered for all.”

The suffering part is perhaps the most difficult piece for us to hear in God’s voice. Sacrifice, patiently waiting and being still is incredibly difficult in our culture. In fact, simply to be in the presence of God without actually “doing” anything is probably viewed by many to be a waste of time. However, it is indispensable.

I remember taking our eighth-grade confirmation students to adoration, which for many was a new experience. Although some greatly appreciated the time, it was truly a battle of endurance for others. Perhaps the best response, though, was from a young man who told me, “You know, this thing actually works, if you can settle down enough.”

As we celebrate National Vocations Awareness Week this month, perhaps we can all pray to hear the voice of God more clearly. God has never stopped calling; sometimes we just have a hard time hearing and distinguishing his call. May we continue to strive to hear the voice of God without despair, and may we always be willing to sift through the noise of our lives. God may be speaking to us through our prayer, time in adoration, conversations, friendships or even through a commercial prior to the start of a football game. 

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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