Today, the Holy Father during an in-flight interview to Portugal, discussed the Fatima visions and the need for the Church to return to the basics. In his discussion on the apparitions, he provided a wonderful teaching moment about how God speaks to His people and in particular the locutions of Mary. This is a very important lesson that all of us should take to heart. He said,
…[T]here is a supernatural impulse which doesn’t come simply from someone’s imagination but from the supernatural reality of the Virgin Mary. That impulse enters into a subject, and is expressed according to the possibilities of the subject, who is determined by his or her historic situation. The supernatural impulse is translated, so to speak, according to the subject’s possibilities for imagining it and expressing it. In this expression formed by the subject, there are always hidden possibilities to go beyond, to go deeper. Only with time can we see all the depth which was, so to speak, dressed in this vision, which was possible for the concrete person.
The Lord always speaks with clarity though it is always interpreted within a context of the individual’s experience and understanding. So, our ability to understand what the Lord said can increase over time as we continue to grow in grace and wisdom. A perfect example of this is St. Francis’ interpretation when our Lord spoke from the San Damiano cross commanding him to, “Rebuild my Church.” St. Francis immediately began gathering stones and collecting materials to rebuild the church of Our Lady of the Angels. Only upon completion did St. Francis realize that our Lord was thinking a little more on the global scale.
Many times we beat ourselves up because we do not understand what the Lord is saying to us – we have but an inkling. The fact is that we need to struggle with the words and let them reveal themselves to us within our own experience. More to the point we grasp at things and want them immediately. We seem to live in the illusion that we are in control and our lives are our own (See Romans 14:7)
Hearing the Lord in our prayer is or should be normative. That does not mean that He, the Blessed Virgin, angels or saints will be appearing to us in a vision or apparition (yes, there is a difference) but don’t discount it- it’s not impossible or even improbable. Most of us hear our Lord through the liturgy of the day in Holy Scripture (Divine Liturgy or the Divine Office). We need to practice the ancient art of…listening, reflecting, and then responding. Everyone is in a hurry…the Lord is not.
Many individuals that I speak to claim they cannot hear the Lord in their own prayer time. This saddens me greatly. Most of the time it is because we treat prayer as an scheduled activity rather than a conversation. The greater challenge in our day is what occupies our hearts. The Lord speaks to our hearts. In order to hear Him, we must remove all the background noise and those impediments to listening. Here are some suggestions:
- Slow-down: The Lord is not on our time-table. As a good co-worker once told me, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Like every relationship it needs to be cultivated. Our Lord does not also do the “conversations on the go.” He is not McDonalds. Free up time to relax and make time to reflect.
- Television: Turn it off. All I have to say is, “Garbage in garbage out.”
- Music: Turn it down and think first. Music continues on in our heart even after it has been turned off. Time to detox and listen to it less. Most people use it as a sedative to ignore the challenges and struggles of the heart. Examine the author and the lyrics. Modern music tends to have a competing message (I understand Christopher West’s “twisted mystic” but we spend more energy untwisting than listening. Besides, that is how the Father speaks to him. We are not Christopher.). It is only in the last 100 years that we have forgotten that music is a prayer and an expression of the musician’s life.
- Start: Begin listening. You will never hear Him if you do not make time. Read along with the liturgical readings – the Church guarantees we will hear his voice in the daily readings. Also, does the Lord get your leftovers or your first-fruits. Something to consider.
Mary should be our example. Receptive, not rushing around, not needing to be in control. She listened. The Lord emphasized this to Martha after she complaimed about all she had to do,
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the better portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42-43)
As we continue to listen in prayer let us also not forget the admonition in Scripture,
If today you hear His voice harden not your heart. (Ps 95)