Pursuing moral virtue and shunning vice is the first step in listening to God.
Christians believe that God, who is the source of all that is good, desires good for every single creature he has made. Recognizing his purposes and goals for creation opens the human mind and imagination to incredible wonders. This is true not only for physical nature but for human nature as well. God’s purposes for us are that we live in a way that accurately and beautifully reflects his image and that we live with him forever in heaven. Therefore, listening to God’s commandments so as to obey them is a starting point on any spiritual journey.
Of course, obeying God’s laws is easier said than done. Human beings truly want good things, but their ability to recognize true good and their desires for it are disordered. Often people want too much of certain good things (for example, dessert) or too little of others (for example, exercise).
Being moderate in our appetites is generally a good approach, but it is not the main goal of our moral behavior. Moral questions go far beyond simple moderation. The most serious moral issues arise when the good elements of human relationships that God desires for us become warped. For instance, maintaining one’s dignity is a good. However, destroying another person’s reputation in order to make oneself appear good is a serious sin—no matter whether the information is true or false.
Sometimes we want good things but our timing for them is bad—either before it is good to have them or after the best time to have them. Certain apparent goods end up becoming the bitter green fruit when they are taken prematurely or the rotten fruit if they are acquired too late.
God speaks to us in his commandments about a wide variety of moral issues. His goal with these commandments is to direct us in achieving the purpose for which he created us. The first three commandments guide us in loving God and serving him, the only God, with the proper love and respect that is his due. The other seven commandments help us live in harmony with our fellow human beings, with whom we are to experience self-giving love and communion. At the same time, keeping all of the commandments helps us achieve personal integrity so that we can live with ourselves in peace and acceptance.
We need to apply ourselves to letting the commandments guide our lives, particularly in this present period of history, which is characterized by radical individualism and relativism. Contemporary culture tries to portray the ability of each individual to make up his own mind as a higher good than that of obeying any commandments, including God’s. Our fallen and sinful human tendencies often lead us to pursue those relativistic choices, making them seem most natural. Often it is only in the bitter aftermath of our actions—the increase of crime, violence, terrorism, family breakdown, and heartbreak—that we learn that God was right all along. Nonetheless, if the bitter or rotten fruit does not kill us, then we have a chance to learn from our mistakes and correct them. This is the beginning of repentance and listening to God.
Christians who mature in their faith life are aware that God has been very patient with them as they gradually learned how wrong and offensive sin is. Those who allow God’s grace to mature their faith recognize important parallels to the ancient people of the Bible. When we study the Bible and observe the growth and development of those whom God called to be his own special people, we can also hope for spiritual maturity to persevere in the life of faith and prayer as the ancients did. King David was a good example of this: he repented profoundly of his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and composed the most moving psalm of repentance of all the psalms, Psalm 51, which has been prayed by millions of sinners to this day.
God continues to accommodate himself to the fears, lack of faith, and even sins of modern believers, but only so as to take them to new levels of faith and holiness. In fact, God’s deity evokes amazement and wonder when it becomes clear that he loves immature, weak, and sinful people unconditionally and that he helps or even impels them to grow in the spiritual life. He continues to call those who love and follow him to deeper explanations and more profound teachings as were given to the twelve disciples (John 13–17). Jesus’ disciples learned to listen to this wisdom and then shared it with the world.
Today Jesus calls each one of us into that inner circle. He wants to share with us his profound wisdom and his love so that we, too, can share it with a needy world. Let’s discover how we can become listeners like Jesus’ disciples so that we can hear God in the modern world today, in whatever place or circumstance we find ourselves.
This is a selection from How to Listen When God Is Speaking: A Guide for Modern-Day Catholics by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ. Published by The Word Among Us Press 2011 and available from www.wau.org/books