Listening to God in Prayer
Wednesday January 14, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20) Gospel (St. Mark 1:29-39)
In the first reading, we hear about young Samuel in the temple. The Lord calls to Samuel, who had not previously heard the Lord’s voice, and so thinking it to be Eli, the young boy runs over to his master and asks what it is that he seeks because he called. And when the old man finally recognizes that it is the Lord Who is calling the boy, he tells him, “Simply say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’”
Now this is the same advice that each one of us needs to have. Not that we are going to hear the voice of the Lord calling us by name necessarily, He has already done that. On the day that we were baptized He gave us our name and He calls to each one of us. The problem for most of us is that when we go to prayer it is basically the other way. “Listen, Lord, for Your servant is speaking,” is basically what we say instead of saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” All too often, for most of us, in prayer it is just a one-way street. We come to prayer and we talk…and we talk and we talk and we talk, and we never give the Lord an opportunity. Of course, we protest by saying, “But He never speaks so why shouldn’t I just fill up the time?” The idea of prayer is that it is a conversation. That means two faces turned towards one another and it means giving the other person an opportunity to speak. And even if God chooses to be silent, out of respect we need to give Him that opportunity to speak when He wants to. If we fill the entire time with our chatter, even if it is good and pious stuff, it is not giving God an opportunity.
I am sure we all know individuals in our lives who do exactly that. They call on the phone and they just talk and talk and talk and then say “goodbye”. There is no sense even trying to get a word in edgewise. It is not going to matter anyway; they are not interested in hearing what you have to say – they just want to hear themselves talk. Well, if we are that way in prayer, God is going to do the same thing as we would do. He is going to sit there silently. There is no sense in Him trying to speak because we are not really interested in listening. So we need to go to prayer with the right intention in our hearts, and that is to seek the Will of God. And you are not going to find the Will of God by telling Him what it is. It does not work very well. We need to listen. We need to hear the voice of God speaking in the silence of our hearts. We need to allow Him to direct us where He wants us to go.
When we think about it, we can look at Our Lord in the Gospel today. He is God, and He goes off to a deserted place where He can pray. And He tells us in Saint John’s Gospel that the Son does nothing unless He sees it from the Father or unless He hears it from the Father. He was not going to prayer to try to tell His Father what it was that He was supposed to do, but rather He was going to prayer to be able to learn – in His humanness, that is – what it is that the Father does or to hear what the Father says so that He in turn will do the same. Now if Jesus, Who is God, goes to pray, we recognize that it is incumbent upon each of us (who certainly are not God) to do the same, but for the same reason; not only to adore the Lord and to praise Him, but to be able to learn, to know the Will of God and to be able to carry it out.
If Jesus would have just been interested in what everybody else was thinking, He would have stayed right there in Capernaum where everyone was looking for Him. They thought He was great and they wanted to be around Him, but He said, “Let’s go to the neighboring villages. I have to preach there too.” He knew what the Father’s Will was. It was not necessarily what was politically correct. It was not necessarily what was going to bring Him the greatest accolades, but it was to do what He came to do. Well, God has a call for each and every one of us. He has a purpose for each and every one of us. Objectively, we know, most of us, what it is: whatever your vocation is and the duties of your state in life that follow, it is pretty evident. However, in our day-to-day existence, God also has a purpose. And if we want to know right now what it is that He wants us to do, we need to seek Him, we need to ask Him, we need to be united with Him in prayer so that we know that what we are doing day-to-day and minute-by-minute is the Will of God. That is the only way.
And so, what the old priest, Eli, tells the young boy, Samuel, is exactly the advice that each one of us needs to hear: Go to prayer and say, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.