The Word Among Us

November 2016 Issue

Open My Ears, Lord!

God is speaking all the time—here’s how we can hear him.

Open My Ears, Lord!: God is speaking all the time—here’s how we can hear him.

Ellen and her daughter use identical smartphones. They purchased them together; they are the same in every way. This means that Ellen’s phone can do everything that her daughter’s can. It can send and receive phone calls, text messages, and e-mails. It can take pictures and play music.

It has thousands of apps and can access the Internet. But nearly every day, Ellen’s daughter shows her yet another “thing” that her smartphone can do—things that Ellen never knew were possible. “How can you do all this?” Ellen asked her daughter. “I’m amazed at how little of my phone’s capacity I really use, even though I carry it with me all day long!”

Both Ellen and her daughter own equally capable phones, but only her daughter is taking full advantage of everything the phone can do for her. In a similar way, we were all created with the ability to receive revelation from God, but so few of us are taking full advantage of it. We may not be experiencing all the power and guidance available to us because, like Ellen, we don’t fully understand how to use the spiritual tools God has given us.

Eye Has Not Seen. As we said in our first article, God wants to reveal himself to us. He wants to give us his wisdom and guidance—that was his intention when he made us. It’s only because of sin that the lines of communication between God and his people were damaged.

Don’t you find it amazing that, rather than rejecting us when we turned away from him, God reached out to us? Through his Son, he restored us to himself. And when he restored us, he also restored our capacity for revelation. Through the gift of baptism, we are “born from above” and made capable once again of seeing the kingdom of God (John 3:3). We are made capable of living on a deeper level, a level that includes the gift of revelation.

St. Paul once told the believers in Corinth: “‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ this God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). This is a key distinction. Human understanding alone cannot grasp the full meaning—or glory—of God’s promises. It is only by revelation that these promises can come alive in our hearts and spark in us a desire to set aside our plans and embrace his instead.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Perhaps a little unrealistic as well? After all, how many of us can say we “hear” God when we pray? But Paul is not trying to give us unrealistic expectations. No, he is telling us what we are capable of experiencing over time as we practice listening for God’s voice. He is encouraging us to examine our consciences on a regular basis to see if there is any unconfessed sin that may be hindering our openness to God’s revelation.

So let’s take a look at how God reveals himself to us.

The Heavens Declare God’s Glory. Scripture tells us that “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31). We can all see the wonders of creation. Everything around us and within us has the potential to put us in touch with the One who created it: the beauty of flowers, the majesty of the heavens, the fluid movements of our bodies, and the amazing capacity of our minds. All of these give us hints about the kind of Creator God is.

Creation is so powerful in its ability to reveal God that even those who are opposed to the Lord are said to have “no excuse” for their unbelief: “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Romans 1:20). It is just as the psalmist wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the the firmament proclaims the works of his hands. . . . There is no speech, no words; their voice is not heard; A report goes forth through all the earth, their messages, to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:2-5).

Try to take some time this week to let the beauty of this created world speak to you. Stare up at the night sky. Take a walk through a garden, a forest, or a park. Contemplate the serenity and power of the oceans and rivers. Quiet your mind, and watch as you are moved to humility and love for God. Your great and awesome God has put on this marvelous show of his glory . . . just to draw you to himself!

The Revealed Word. Scripture tells us that God is the one, only, and true God (John 17:3). It tells us that he is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was, who is, and who is to come (Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 1:8). It tells us that he is invisible, immortal, and eternal (Romans 1:20, 23; 16:26). It tells us that nothing is impossible for God (Mark 10:27).

These attributes describe God’s power, but so many stories in Scripture show us God’s heart as well. Take the story of Moses and the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, for example. There we see God’s love and his desire to set his people free. Or look at the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. There we see just how much God loves to fill us with his Spirit. The whole Book of Acts chronicles how God revealed himself to more and more people all over the world.

The Scriptures tell us who God is and how much he loves us. They tell us that God has a loving plan for his Church. They tell us that our God is patient, rich in mercy, and quick to forgive. All these messages from Scripture can change our lives when we take them to prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal their truths to us in the depths of our hearts.

A Living Tradition. In addition to creation and Scripture, God also reveals himself through the Sacred Tradition of our Church. “Tradition” here does not mean the way we pass down cherished rituals as a way of preserving our past. Rather, Tradition refers to the way Jesus entrusted his teachings to the apostles—teachings that the apostles preserved and passed on to the next generation. This Tradition, as it is contained in the teachings, institutions, and practices of the Church, continues to minister to us today. When combined with the written words of Scripture, Tradition gives us a fuller picture of who God is, how he wants to pour his blessings upon us, and the life of holiness and peace that he calls us to live.

This teaching about Tradition is one of the greatest examples of the fact that revelation involves much more than God just giving us information about himself. If God wanted to do only that, then all we would need is a Bible and a Catechism. But our Father wants a relationship with us. Just as a married couple express their love in many different ways, so does our God: in the beauty of the liturgy and the intricacies of life in the Church; in the grandeur of the mountains and the power of the oceans; and in the stories, poems, prayers, and teachings of the Bible—in all these ways, our Father calls out to us, inviting us to receive his life and his love.

The next time you hear Pope Francis teaching about some aspect of the gospel, or the next time you hear a homily from your parish priest, know that God may have a special message for you that will help draw you closer to him. The next time you attend a baptism or try to apply the Church’s teachings on justice and peace, open the eyes of your heart, and see what God may be trying to show you about his character. He is at work in so many ways, pouring out his revelation to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear!

Expand Your Horizons. There is no reason why we should settle for a limited “spiritual capacity.” Smartphone users expand their digital horizons by keeping their batteries charged, reading the user’s manual, and experimenting with new features. In a similar way, we can expand our spiritual horizons by receiving God’s revelation through daily prayer, by reading his “manual” in Scripture, and by experimenting with our ability to hear the Spirit’s voice in our lives.

Jesus wants to give us a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17). He wants to guide us on “the path to life” (Psalm 16:11). So let’s take advantage of every tool he has given us. Let’s expand our horizons by asking his Spirit for a deeper and deeper revelation of the mysteries of his love and his plan.